missvirginia on Sep 21st 2009
So, I’ve worked retail for two years now. Those years have honed my skill for picking up items that are easy to sell, harder to sell, create selling points for the customer, etc. After finishing most of the readings between the 1855 and 1867 editions, I was looking back and comparing the table of contents. OH MY WORD–comparing just the table of contents was a little overwhelming. The 12, short and sweet, lines in the 1855 table of contents make the book seem so much more marketable, so much more less intimidating to read. Wikipedia reports, “Early advertisements for the first edition appealed to “lovers of literary curiosities” as an oddity. Sales on the book were few but Whitman was not discouraged.” In fact, Whitman seems to have written L of G for the reader, he was being selfless in a sense. Wikipedia also recounts that “Whitman once said he intended the book to be small enough to be carried in a pocket. ‘That would tend to induce people to take me along with them and read me in the open air: I am nearly always successful with the reader in the open air.'” Whitman wants to be seen as a poet of the people, which we have already established. The 1855 edition is his rise, his ambition to become America’s Bard to the Citizens.
I’m thinking that Emerson’s letter somewhat reviewing L of G prompted Whitman to, like you said last week Scanlon, “micromanage”. Almost like when you tell someone you like their hair or a certain sweater and they ONLY wear their hair like that or they wear the damned sweater a million times a season. Wikipedia quotes Whitman saying that the 1867 edition was “‘a new & much better edition of Leaves of Grass complete — that unkillable work!'” Also, the 1867 edition, with it’s almost 80 poems, instead of the original 13, lacked the legendary frontispiece.
Whitman’s Civil War experiences definitely influenced the 1867 version. You can tell because he filled the 1867 edition with SO much more, not to mention this is the first time Drum Taps is published. Obviously, he felt compelled to show the reader, instead of what a wonderful world we live in (and being able to reach the reader “by being in their pocket”) he wanted to show the gruesome, live-or-die side of life. Which, can also be the most alive side of life. The fight for life or death, especially in the scenes Walt observed, he wanted the general public to realize the fight their sons, husbands, and lovers were putting up and mostly losing to disease and lack of proper healthcare. From just the shear amount of new poems, a lot can be inferred from his experiences as a “nurse”, of sorts, in the “Great Effort”.
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