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"When I Give, I Give Myself"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Walt Whitman first called attention to his new sort of poetry when he published at his own expense the first edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855. Just before his death, he arranged the tenth edition. The unrhymed lines of unequal length brought much criticism from readers accustomed to the classical form. But the poet's genius, shining through much of his writing, demanded recognition. An example of his democratic themes and of his descriptions of his outgoing nature is in Canto 40:

Earth, you seem to look for something at my hands,
Say, old top-knot, what do you want?
Man or woman, I might tell how I like you, but cannot,
And might tell what it is in me and what it is in you, but cannot,
And might tell that pining I have, that pulse of my nights and days.
Behold, I do not give lectures or a little charity,
When I give I give myself.