The Early Poems and the Fiction

The Early Poems and the Fiction

The Early Poems and the Fiction

The Early Poems and the Fiction

Excerpt

This volume is not intended to be a critical edition of Walt Whitman's fiction and early poetry. Its sole purpose is to provide for the first time a complete and accurate text, with variants, of Whitman's pre-Leaves verse and of his tales, the latter very conveniently falling into approximately the same period as that of his early poems. But I must qualify these statements. To speak of a "complete" text of the fiction and early verse is not quite exact. The reader of this volume will find in it the fragment of a temperance tale, the remainder of which may be uncovered eventually. Other of Whitman's tales may later be discovered; the same is true of Whitman's verse. Should, for example, a file of the Long Islander for 1838-1839 be found, it would probably bring to light poems not included in this volume. And as for this not being a critical edition, the reader will find that I have made some "critical" remarks; but these remarks appear chiefly in these introductory paragraphs. I could not resist making them.

II

Whitman's published poetry prior to the publication of Leaves of Grass falls, so far as is known, in the period between 1838 and 1850. Most of these poems appeared in either New York or Long Island newspapers. The earliest poem appeared in Whitman's own weekly, the Long Islander, and has been preserved because it was reprinted in the Long Island Democrat, of which there is an extant file. The last appeared in the New York Tribune.

The kindest remark that one can make about Whitman's early verse is that it was conventional: it was the sort of thing being printed each year by the hundreds in newspapers, magazines, and gift books. Whitman's poems are didactic in the fashion of the American school of graveyard poetry as established by Bryant and sentimental in the manner of Shelleyan self-pity and Keatsian frustration. Neither this sort of didacticism nor this sort of sentimentalism is characteristic of the later Leaves of Grass. Though echoes from Bryant are the most obvious in this early poetry of Whitman . . .

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