The first thing I notice that’s different about the 1867 version of Leaves of Grass (for pretty obvious reasons) is the first poem that Whitman chooses to introduce. The deathbed edition features “One’s-Self I Sing” about halfway through the book, under the broader section, “Inscriptions.” In the 1867 version this poem is featured at the very beginning. Whitman drops the title and places it under the heading, “Inscription.” When I looked at the original pages, I noticed immediately how the inscription had become singular and was followed by an authoritative period. It gave me the sense that Whitman’s message was going to be more urgent this time, less idealistic and more somber in the aftermath of the war.
Both versions of the poem echo themes of solidarity and the endless possibilities set out before “a simple, separate person.” In the first version, Whitman hints that it may be necessary for people to come together. However, in the later version he proposes that the “modern” man must learn to come together “EN MASSE.” Times had changed, and Whitman advises his readers to change with them. He directly addresses the “hapless war” that had been tearing the country apart. Stylistically, this marked another change in Whitman’s work. Instead of masking everything in ambiguity and mentions the war directly, right in the first poem of the book.
As interesting, perhaps, as the things that Whitman changed in the revised version, are the things that he left the same. Although the American landscape had changed drastically, Whitman’s message of camaraderie and relationships (whether you believe Reynolds that they are all quite fraternal or have more raunchy ideas) still remains the same. As the nation crumbled around its citizens, Whitman insisted that they continue to come together in intimate ways for the good of everyone.
It also seems that, in the wake of the Civil War, Whitman’s priorities have changed. We all know now that, if Whitman believes something then we will be asked to believe it as well. In “Leaves of Grass, part 4,” which originally appeared as “To You,” Whitman’s scope has changed ever so slightly. In the original version he said, “They stand forth out of affairs, out of commerce, shops, work, farms, clothes, the house, buying, selling, eating, drinking, suffering, dying.” However, in the later version he adds to the list, “law, science, medicine, and print.” In the changing American landscape, Whitman felt the need to broaden his audience. His message had to be heard by everyone now, not just the outdoorsy hermits looking for a prophet.
Whitman had always shown a strong sense of nationalistic pride, and throughout the early editions of Leaves of Grass he inspired his readers to improve upon the face of America through personal growth. However, after the devastation of the Civil War, Whitman realized that maybe that was not enough to keep the country standing.test Filed under Uncategorized | Tags: civil war, ww02 | Comments (4)