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This review is taken from PN Review 167, Volume 32 Number 3, January - February 2006.

VALENTINO'S FAVOURITE Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, edited by David S. Reynolds (Oxford University Press) £13.50 pb/£22.00 hb

The first edition of Leaves of Grass was published in 1855. That was the year of Tennyson's Maud, and Other Poems and Browning's Men and Women, the first chapters of Little Dorrit, Longfellow's Hiawatha and Melville's 'Benito Cereno'. The previous year had seen the first publication of Thoreau's Walden; the miracles of Madame Bovary and Les Fleurs du Mal would follow in 1857.

For this 150th anniversary David S. Reynolds has compiled an admirable commemorative edition which, although not a facsimile, approximates the layout of the original, including the wrap-arounds of Whitman's long line and the double columns of the Preface. This is the Leaves of Grass without the subsequent eroticism of the 'Calamus' and 'Children of Adam' sections (1860) or the sentimental gravity of the Civil War elegies in 'Drum-Taps' (1867). 'Out of the cradle endlessly rocking' would come later, as would the stately elegy on Abraham Lincoln, 'When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd'. Ever since its first publication, the latter has worked, thematically, as the centrepiece around which, fortuitously, the whole collection appears to have been organised from the very start. Without it, the shorter collection seems atomised and fragmented.

The massive 'Song of Myself', which opens the whole sequence, appeared in the first edition without its title and without the numbered sub-sections which have ...


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