Whitman's preface to his first (1855) edition of Leaves of Grass celebrates America (the United States) and the American poet. In the second paragraph to the preface, Whitman calls the U.S. itself the "greatest poem." In the first paragraph he asserts that, contrary to what some say, America calmly embraces the past, and does not "repel" it.
However, Whitman also declares that the forms of the past are past, and now the old poetic life, which has done what was required of it, will be transformed into the "new life of new forms." He imagines the corpse of the poetic past being carried out of eating and sleeping rooms of the house—the places where the living are active—and says that its baton or call to action has passed down to a worthy heir who is approaching.
This heir to the poetic forms is Walt Whitman himself and, more to the point, the poems that follow in his volume. He envisions himself, a poet-sage, as the expression of America in vibrant microcosm. He has learned what he could...
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