In the preface to the Leaves of Grass, what subject does Whitman address in the first paragraph?  

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Michael Ugulini eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the preface to the Leaves of Grass, in the first paragraph, Walt Whitman addresses the fact that America does not hide from its past, whether its mistakes or failures, or its good actions and successes. To Walt Whitman, America accepts all that has made it the nation that it is. This includes the nation as it was in his time, and as it is today.

Whitman is saying that America accepts its past, its varied politics, ideologies, religious beliefs, and classes (castes). He goes further to say that America accepts its past with “calmness”. American society as a whole was not fretting over the debates that helped forged the nation. It is a recognition that varied opinion and such are what make for constructive discourse in a nation and what ultimately lead to a nation finding its true self through much trial and error. This trial and error can be civil war, wars against the tyranny of other nations, and heated political debate within the nation.

Walt Whitman additionally states that America is not impatient with its growth process. America, in essence its citizenry, know that the development of a strong nation takes time. Whitman indicates that the nation can learn from what went before, which helps the country to better face the challenges that will always be present in the world. It is a sort of ‘trial by fire’ that in the end refines the nation and makes it stronger and more resilient.

Whitman is saying that America does not have to always hold on to the old way of doing things. It can confidently move forward as it sees opportunity and is not so rigid that it is bound to traditional ways of doing things. It can be proactive and innovative as it develops as a nation, without fear, employing the immense natural and human resources that it has been blessed with.

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literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the preface of Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman addresses America's past. In the opening paragraph, Whitman speaks to the fact that America does not "repel" (or refuse to accept) what has happened in its history.

Whitman refers to the "fact" that America stands strong in its history regardless of the negative aspects of what has happened. For Whitman, the politics, religions, and literature (while seemingly stuck) do not have to be regarded as the defining of America can/could be.

Instead, he recognizes the fact that the history has molded America into what is is today. Americans can learn from the past, and not make the same mistakes seen in the past again, or they can become the corpse "slowly born" (meaning that Americans are already dead if they fail to learn from America's past mistakes).

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Leaves of Grass

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