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Leaves of Grass (Collins Classics)

Leaves of Grass (Collins Classics)

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Leaves of Grass (Collins Classics)

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Aug 27, 2015


HarperCollins is proud to present its incredible range of best-loved, essential classics.

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey work of the stars…

First published in 1855, and edited, revised and expanded over thirty years, ‘Leaves of Grass’ has become one of the most celebrated poetry collections in the history of American literature. A master of free verse, Walt Whitman captures the true spirit of his homeland and its people through his poetry. He explores a wide range of themes, encompassing American identity and cultural values, democracy, nature and the mysteries of the human spirit.

Featuring the poems of the original 1855 edition, ‘Leaves of Grass’ remains an influential work within the American literary tradition, studied and treasured around the world.

Aug 27, 2015

Sobre el autor

Walt Whitman (1819-1892), arguably one of America's most influential and innovative poets, was born into a working-class family in West Hills, New York, and grew up in Brooklyn. His Leaves of Grass, from which "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer" comes, is considered one of the central volumes in the history of world poetry. While most other major writers of his time enjoyed a highly structured, classical education at private institutions, Whitman forged his own rough and informal curriculum, and his brief stint at teaching suggests that Whitman employed what were then progressive techniques -- encouraging students to think aloud rather than simply recite, and involving his students in educational games.

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Leaves of Grass (Collins Classics) - Walt Whitman


Walt Whitman


William Collins

An imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers

1 London Bridge Street

London SE1 9GF


This eBook edition published by William Collins in 2015

Life & Times section © HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd

Silvia Crompton asserts her moral right as author of the Life & Times section

Classic Literature: Words and Phrases adapted from

Collins English Dictionary

Cover by e-Digital Design

Cover image: Mary Evans / Everett Collection

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins

Source ISBN: 9780008110604

Ebook Edition © August 2015 ISBN: 9780008110611

Version: 2015-07-21



Title Page


History of Collins

Life & Times

Song of Myself

A Song for Occupations

To Think of Time

The Sleepers

I Sing the Body Electric


Song of the Answerer

Europe: The 72d and 73d Years of These States

A Boston Ballad [1854]

There Was a Child Went Forth

Who Learns My Lesson Complete?

Great Are the Myths

Classic Literature: Words and Phrases

About the Publisher

History of Collins

In 1819, millworker William Collins from Glasgow, Scotland, set up a company for printing and publishing pamphlets, sermons, hymn books, and prayer books. That company was Collins and was to mark the birth of HarperCollins Publishers as we know it today. The long tradition of Collins dictionary publishing can be traced back to the first dictionary William published in 1824, Greek and English Lexicon. Indeed, from 1840 onwards, he began to produce illustrated dictionaries and even obtained a licence to print and publish the Bible.

Soon after, William published the first Collins novel, Ready Reckoner; however, it was the time of the Long Depression, where harvests were poor, prices were high, potato crops had failed, and violence was erupting in Europe. As a result, many factories across the country were forced to close down and William chose to retire in 1846, partly due to the hardships he was facing.

Aged 30, William’s son, William II, took over the business. A keen humanitarian with a warm heart and a generous spirit, William II was truly Victorian in his outlook. He introduced new, up-to-date steam presses and published affordable editions of Shakespeare’s works and The Pilgrim’s Progress, making them available to the masses for the first time. A new demand for educational books meant that success came with the publication of travel books, scientific books, encyclopedias, and dictionaries. This demand to be educated led to the later publication of atlases, and Collins also held the monopoly on scripture writing at the time.

In the 1860s Collins began to expand and diversify and the idea of books for the millions was developed. Affordable editions of classical literature were published, and in 1903 Collins introduced 10 titles in their Collins Handy Illustrated Pocket Novels. These proved so popular that a few years later this had increased to an output of 50 volumes, selling nearly half a million in their year of publication. In the same year, The Everyman’s Library was also instituted, with the idea of publishing an affordable library of the most important classical works, biographies, religious and philosophical treatments, plays, poems, travel, and adventure. This series eclipsed all competition at the time, and the introduction of paperback books in the 1950s helped to open that market and marked a high point in the industry.

HarperCollins is and has always been a champion of the classics, and the current Collins Classics series follows in this tradition – publishing classical literature that is affordable and available to all. Beautifully packaged, highly collectible, and intended to be reread and enjoyed at every opportunity.

Life & Times

A Child Went Forth

Walt Whitman was born in New York in 1819, the second child of a family that eventually grew to nine. Despite the best efforts of Walter Whitman Sr., a carpenter who turned his hand unsuccessfully to real-estate speculation, the family was forced by economic hardship to move house often. As a result, Whitman had a disjointed education and left school at the age of eleven in order to seek employment.

But though formal schooling did not serve him well, Whitman, left to his own devices, quickly learned to love self-improvement. His first employer, a Brooklyn law firm, gave him access to library books and he became an avid reader and visitor of museums. Aged twelve he went to work for a liberal newspaper, the Long Island Patriot, where he was apprenticed in printing and typesetting and even made contributions to articles. He spent the next five years honing his reputation as a printer, and above all making the most of being on his own in New York City. It was a period of rapid and dazzling development, and Whitman never tired of walking the streets and observing the teeming beauty of life around him. It was an experience that surely influenced his poem ‘There Was a Child Went Forth’, which appeared in the first edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855:

There was a child went forth every day;

And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became …

The streets themselves, and the façades of houses, and goods in the windows …

The horizon’s edge, the flying sea-crow, the fragrance of salt marsh and shore mud …

But it was not to last: a combination of financial instability and a devastating fire in New York’s printing district sent him back to his family in Long Island, where he took up a largely miserable career as a teacher. The only advantage of this move was that he was able to use some poems he had written as teaching aids. By 1841, thoroughly disillusioned with teaching, he returned to New York City to become a full-time journalist and fiction writer.

The Voice of America

Whitman’s earliest published work shows signs of the political and philosophical engagement that would later run through Leaves of Grass. By the 1840s he had become an ardent supporter of the temperance movement, and in 1842 published Franklin Evans; or, The Inebriate, a novel in which alcohol provides the catalyst for a great deal of death and despair. Whitman was never afraid to side with controversial political viewpoints: he was a vocal Democrat and opposed slavery, even losing his job as editor of the Brooklyn Eagle in 1848 because his views on the subject were at odds with those of the paper’s publisher.

Whitman above all wanted America, still in its early decades of independence, to be the very best it could be – to fulfil the ambitions of its revolutionary heroes – and he was frustrated whenever he saw the country letting itself down. He was later appalled by the needless bloodshed of the Civil War, doing what he could to heal the country’s wounds – quite literally – by visiting, comforting and rehabilitating injured soldiers in the makeshift hospitals of Washington, DC. He did not return to New York after the war, instead taking up another new career as a government clerk.

Whitman’s arguably idealised view of America, as well as his liberal politics, were the legacy left to him by his father, a great admirer of Thomas Paine, Founding Father and author of Common Sense and Rights of Man. Walt was brought up to be a true American: a self-made man, and proud of his country.

In the preface to the first edition of Leaves of Grass, Whitman paid tribute to that heritage: ‘The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem … Here are the roughs and beards and space and ruggedness and nonchalance that the soul loves.’ As this ode unfolds, Whitman looks beyond the traditional signs of a country’s civilisation – ‘its ambassadors or authors or colleges or churches’ – and instead declares that ‘the genius of the United States’ lies ‘in the common people’ and ‘their deathless attachment to freedom’; ‘these too are unrhymed poetry’.

Sacred Bodies

Herein lies the heart of much of Whitman’s poetic inspiration: time and again he writes from the viewpoint of an American Everyman, a figure not defined by the increasingly polarised capitalist spectrum that was America on the cusp of its Gilded Age. ‘Neither a servant nor a master I,’ he declares in ‘A Song for Occupations’. ‘I will be even with you and you shall be even with me.’ In the same poem, written at a time when slavery was tearing his beloved country apart, Whitman made a series of bold claims for equality, for the body as an extraordinary form, part of the soul, rather than a commodity:

The man’s body is sacred and the woman’s body is sacred,

No matter who it is, it is sacred …

These limbs, red, black, or white, they are cunning in tendon and nerve.

This is a theme picked up in ‘The Sleepers’, in which the narrator is able to observe mankind under the equalising cover of darkness: ‘The criminal that stood in the box, the judge that sat and sentenced him … I swear they are averaged now – one is no better than the other.’

Whitman was fascinated by the diversity of mankind and at the same time saw that diversity as a great unifier. In ‘I Sing the Body Electric’, the narrator wanders among the common people, much as Whitman did as a young man in New York – ‘I loosen myself, pass freely … and pause, listen, count’ – observing and auditing the variety of the human form in all its sensual, toiling, beauty:

The bending forward and backward of rowers in row-boats, the horseman in his saddle …

The female soothing a child.

It was not just Whitman’s liberal politics that made him alive to the pain of social inequality. It is widely assumed now – and was scandalously rumoured during his lifetime – that he was homosexual. He never married and instead had a series of intense friendships with men, the most prominent being Peter Doyle, a streetcar conductor and former Confederate soldier. When Leaves of Grass first appeared, with its appreciative descriptions of the male form – ‘The wrestle of wrestlers, two apprentice-boys, quite grown, lusty … the embrace of love and resistance’ – it was denounced for being immoral and obscene. Fellow equality campaigner Thomas Wentworth Higginson went so far as to say, ‘It is no discredit to Walt Whitman that he wrote Leaves of Grass, only that he did not burn it afterwards.’

Leaves of Grass

Leaves of Grass is remarkable not just for its content but also for its form: the poems are almost entirely devoid of rhyme or formal structure, and as such Whitman has been hailed as the father of free verse. The Beat poets of the mid-twentieth century certainly drew great inspiration from him; Allen Ginsberg specifically invokes Whitman in ‘A Supermarket in California’ (1955), in which he wanders the sidestreets ‘shopping for images’.

The collection was the work of a lifetime. The first edition of 1855 contained just twelve poems, all untitled, and was funded and typeset by Whitman himself. Not quite content with the collection, he revised and expanded it in 1856, and continued to revise and expand it at least once every decade, even after a debilitating stroke in 1873 forced him to move to New Jersey, near his family. The final ‘deathbed edition’ of 1892 contained almost 400 poems. Whitman put a notice in the New York Herald informing the public that Leaves of Grass was now finally ‘completed’, and died two months later. The poems that appear in this Collins Classics edition are the twelve poems that comprised the original 1855 edition; however, they are reproduced here as they were in the final 1892 edition. ‘Great Are the Myths’ was dropped from the last two editions, however, so appears here as in the 1871 edition – the last in which it featured.

There is no doubt that in his poetic celebration Whitman had given America the ‘gigantic and generous treatment worthy of it’ that he had wished for in the preface to the first edition. He had become America’s Everyman but he was also in everything. ‘I pass death with the dying, and birth with the new-washed babe … and am not contained between my hat and boots,’ he wrote in ‘Song of Myself’, the most famous poem from the collection. ‘Every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.’

Song of Myself

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,

And what I assume you shall assume,

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,

I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air,

Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,

I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,

Hoping to cease not till death.

Creeds and schools in abeyance,

Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten,

I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,

Nature without check with original energy.

Houses and rooms are full of perfumes, the shelves are crowded with perfumes,

I breathe the fragrance myself and know it and like it,

The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.

The atmosphere is not a perfume, it has no taste of the

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  • (4/5)
    I read this book after reading Paper towns by John Green. The main character is reading Leaves of grass in Green's novel, and i found his interpretations helpful. I was making my struggling way through Song of myself when the time came for me to leave for Europe. I took the book with me, and I am exceedingly glad that I did. I read it frequently, and the picturesque scenery combined with Whitman's poetry had a large effect on me. It's a good read, and there are many passages i loved deeply. My copy is a bit battered, I'm afraid, but only in the way of a well loved book, with underlinings and marks throughout. I would recomend this book to anyone, especially if they're planning to travel.
  • (5/5)
    If there was a single book I could have on a deserted island it would be "Leaves of Grass". It is beautiful, inspired writing. It's been analyzed by many so I'll spare you any grand statements or a lot of detail, but for a taste of the themes Whitman puts across:- All men are brothers. The book celebrates the common man, and embraces the man that society has cast out or looked down upon.- Delight and oneness with nature. Delight in the small things in nature.- Spirituality achieved not by subjugating the senses or pleasures but by embracing them, and living life to the fullest.- The belief in the innate power, spirituality, and goodness of man. All of this is done in a very natural, unpretentious way ... I believe Whitman was truly inspired when he initially wrote this book, and was not regurgitating someone else's philosophy or metaphysics. There are so many wonderful passages and quotes, maybe someday I'll include some here but for now I'll just say I highly, highly recommend this book. Read it outside, under a tree.
  • (4/5)
    Leaves of grass my ass? More like leaves of ass my grass! What?
  • (5/5)
    very nice Penguin reissue of the 1855 edition, with an introduction by Harold Bloom
  • (4/5)
    Ruminative verse in thought... Whitman is always a pleasure to read
  • (5/5)
    This slim book was assigned to me in college and was my introduction to Walt William. This is the first 1855 edition of only 12 poems, later given titles: "Song of Myself," "A Song For Occupations," "To Think of Time," "The Sleepers," "I Sing the Body Electric," "Faces," "Song of the Answerer," "Europe: The 72d and 73d Years of These States," "A Boston Ballad," "There Was a Child Went Forth," "Who Learns My Lesson Complete?", and "Great Are the Myths." It would go through several editions until his death in 1892 where it reached 400 poems. But this is Whitman at his freshest, and most revolutionary. Especially coming from reading Romantic poets, such as Percy Bysse Shelley and John Keats, it's startling how sensual, personal and earthy these are, how modern they read. Unlike early works of romanticism, there are no elaborate allegories or classical or mythological allusions, this is the poetry of a democratic man, not an aristocrat: “I am large, I contain multitudes.”