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Walt Whitman




Reading Books

Of all nations the United States with veins full of poetical stuff most needs poets and will doubtless have the greatest and use them the greatest. Their Presidents shall not be their common referee so much as their poets shall. Of all mankind the great poet is the equable man.

The known universe has one complete lover and that is the greatest poet.... Nothing can jar him.... suffering and darkness cannot death and fear cannot.... The great poet does not moralize or make applications of morals... he knows the soul. The soul has that measure-less pride which consists in never acknowledging any lessons but its own. But it has sympathy as measureless as its pride, and the one balances the other, and neither can stretch too far while it stretches in company with the other. The inmost secrets of art sleep with the twain. The great poet has lain close betwixt both, and they are vital in his style and thoughts.

The art of art, the glory of expression and the sunshine of the light of letters is simplicity; nothing is better than simplicity.... Nothing can make up for excess or for the lack of definiteness. To carry on the heave of impulse and pierce intellectual depths and give all subjects their articulations are powers neither common nor uncommon. But to speak in literature with the perfect rectitude and insouciance of the movement of animals and the unimpeachableness of the sentiment of trees in the woods and grass by the roadside is the flawless triumph of art.

Most works are most beautiful without ornament.

... The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it.

Preface to November Boughs, 1888 A Backward Glance O'er Travel'd Roads.

... I look upon Leaves of Grass, now finish'd to the end of its opportunities and powers, as my definitive carte visite to the coming generations of the New World, if I may assume to say so.

... Along in my sixteenth year, I had become the possessor of a stout, well-cramm'd one-thousand-page octavo volume (I have it yet) containing Walter Scott's poetry entire an inexhaustible mine and treasury of poetic forage (especially the endless forests and jungles of notes) has been so to me for fifty years, and remains so to this days.

The chief trait of any given poet is always the spirit he brings to the observation of Humanity and Nature the mood out of which he contemplates his subjects.

In the free evening of my day I give to you, reader, the foregoing, garrulous talk, thoughts, reminiscences,

As idly drifting down the ebb, Such ripples, half-caught voices, echo from the shore.

Concluding with two items for the imaginative genius of the West, when it worthily rises First, what Herder taught to the young Goethe, that really great poetry is always (like the Homeric or Biblical canticles) the result of a national spirit, and not the privilege of a polish'd and select few; second, that the strongest and sweetest songs yet remain to be sung.



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