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The opening of Whitman’s lifework, “Leaves of Grass,” this poem has enjoyed popularity since the mid-nineteenth century, and holds a place in American literature equal to Moby Dick and Tom Sawyer. The honesty, the frankness, the transcendental beauty of this self-portrait, a blank-verse revelation of a man’s (of all men’s) connection with the universe, has a poetic structure entirely internal and natural, words so telling in their imagery that they are quoted by everyone in every walk of life. There is no parallel in modern poetry for its honesty and truthfulness. When a poet combines his own personal biography with such a universal understanding of his place in all existence, he will always find a permanent place in our collective psyche.
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