Richard Gray

Barbaric Yawp

Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself


University of California Press 545pp £24.95 order from our bookshop

He is America,’ Ezra Pound observed of Walt Whitman. ‘His crudity is an exceeding great stench, but it is America.’ Never frightened of being called crude, Whitman would have appreciated the comment; and, as Jerome Loving shows, he would have liked being identified with America because that was his aim – to speak as a representative American and turn the New World into words. Whitman certainly had this aim after the day in 1842 when he attended a lecture given by Ralph Waldo Emerson, in which Emerson prophesied the imminent arrival of an American Homer to celebrate ‘the barbarism and materialism of the times’.

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