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 independence. Of the form taken by so audacious a message space is wanting for accurate description. It may be said, however, that, denying to itself rhyme, regular metre, stanza forms, literary allusions, and ‘stock “poetical” touches’ in general, it frequently achieved, nevertheless, a deep and satisfying rhythm of its own—sometimes pregnant gnomic utterances, sometimes a chant or recitative, occasionally a burst of pure lyricism. Just where, if anywhere, Whitman found the hint for this flexible prose-poetic form critics have not agreed. Perhaps Biblical prosody, Ossian, the blank verse of Shakespeare and Bryant, the writings of Blake, the prose of Carlyle and Emerson, and his own impassioned declamation all assisted; but full allowance must be made for the unquestioned originality of his own genius, working slowly but courageously for the fuller liberation of song.1 The book, expecting opposition, was met by almost complete disregard. Except for a few copies which found their way to England and were later to secure for Whitman ardent disciples and his first English editor, William Michael Rossetti, there was practically no sale. Most of the reviews in the periodicals that noticed the book at all were as scandalized as had been anticipated; but a highly congratulatory letter from Emerson, who evidently recognized in Whitman the disciple he then professed to be, compensated for all neglect or abuse from other quarters, and a sentence from it was put to good, if indelicate, use as advertising on the back of the second edition (1856), a volume much larger than the first and more open to criticism because of its attempt to combat prudery in America by a naturalistic but fragmentary treatment of the facts of sex. Of this patent and confessed indebtedness to
1 In one of the anonymous reviews which Whitman saw fit to write, in 1855, of his own first edition, he disclaims any model: ‘The style of these poems, therefore, is simply their own style, just born and red. Nature may have given the hint to the author of “Leaves of Grass,” but there exists no book or fragment of a book which can have given the hint to them.’ In re Walt Whitman, p. 16.The first poem known to have been published in this measure was Blood-Money, which appeared in Horace Greeley's Tribune (Supplement), 22 March, 1850. But Isle of La Belle Riviere, published in the Cincinnati Post, 30 April, 1892, was written, in what is now called imagist verse, at the age of thirty (1849-50), while New year's day, 1848, written in an album just before Whitman's departure for New Orleans, shows a tendency to break away from conventional forms. By far more important are the Harned manuscript notebook specimens already mentioned.
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