Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Whitman Review II.

"Leaves of Grass." The Saturday Review 1 (15 March 1856)"

It is no exaggeration to reveal that this reviewer was not a fan of Leaves of Grass. Skip to the damning paragraph at the article's closure, and we gain a sense of how Whitman's poetry dwells in a much more hostile and conservative environment than ours today, "But the truth is, that after every five or six pages of matter such as we have quoted, Mr. Whitman suddenly becomes exceedingly intelligible, but exceedingly obscene. If the Leaves of Grass should come into anybodies possession, our advice is to throw them instantly behind the fire." If the article is to be considered a polemic, the writer has a strange way of advancing his argument. He includes a spectrum of other reviews from a number of established sources and literary figures, all of which express nothing but veneration for the poem. His conclusion is not befitting of the article's erstwhile praise of Whitman, and indeed the final paragraph seems hastily penned in obstinate disregard to these reviews.
We may glean from this that Whitman writes in an America going through transition. There is a tension between conservatism and incipient liberalism, in which Whitman creates a fence too sharp to sit on. This is to his credit. Art is perhaps the most important agent of transgression, and the breaking of boundaries remains to be one of its most important attributes.

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