Leaving the M/Other: Whitman, Kristeva, and Leaves of Grass

By Beth Jensen | Go to book overview
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1871 and 1876 Editions: The Symbolic

Why so downcast, my soul,
why do you sigh within me?
—Psalms 42:5 and 11

THE FIFTH EDITION OF LEAVES OF GRASS APPEARED IN 1871 WITH 384 pages; a second issue followed with seventy-five additional poems, most notably [Passage to India.]1 Even though the 1871 edition was reissued in 1872, I will refer to the fifth edition as the 1871 edition. The [Author's Edition,] more an [issue] than an [edition,] was published in 1876.2 Although [Prayer of Columbus] did not appear in Leaves of Grass until 1881, I will discuss the poem as part of the 1876 [Author's Edition] since it was included in Two Rivulets, a companion volume to the 1876 issue.3 I am focusing on these editions since the pattern that emerges in the 1860s progresses in the 1870s. Whitman also published his most significant later poems such as [Passage to India] and [Prayer of Columbus] in the 1870s.

The changes in language that appear in 1867 escalate in 1871 and 1876. In the early editions, Whitman avoids the archaic, formal diction of [poetic] tradition. He writes that his rule is to [take no illustrations whatever from the ancients or classics, nor from the mythology, nor Egypt, Greece or Rome—nor from the royal and aristocratic institutions and forms of Europe [to] make no mention or allusions to them whatever.]4 Yet in later editions, he alludes to the dryads in [Song of the Redwood Tree] and to the Muses of ancient Greece in [Song of the Universal.] He includes obsolete, poetic words such as [e'er,] [ne'er,] [haply,] [methinks,] [morn,] and [unwrit.]5 Archaisms proliferate until they reach their peak in 1891 in [On, on the Same, Ye Jocund Twain!] As slang, neologisms, and Americanisms disappear,


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