Walt Whitman's 'Song of Myself': A Mosaic of Interpretations
By Edwin Haviland
Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” is a remarkable encyclopedia of how Whitman’s greatest poem has been received by critics and poets since its appearance in 1855. From the beginning the poem has posed difficulties for readers because of the absence of rhyme, the free meter, the startling introduction of nonpoetic diction and erotic materials, and the richness and subtlety of a poet who ventured into new poetic territory in his effort to establish himself as the first bard of the democracy.
Integrating the diverse views of approximately three hundred scholars, this volume does for Whitman what has been done for Shakespeare and others in variorum editions. Future readers and interpreters will now have easy access to an elaborate commentary upon which all subsequent interpretations will of necessity draw.
Included in this edition is a complete facsimile of the 1855 edition of the poem, followed by an analysis of the work from section to section. An introduction reviews the background of the poem and its commentary, presenting detailed discussions of the many attempts to establish the structure of this seemingly formless poem. Also included are an appendix describing Whitman’s catalogs and a bibliography of all the significant discussions of “Song of Myself” over the past 130 years. This highly useful book is destined to be the standard reference work for everyone concerned with Whitman’s poetry.
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