Has there ever been a poet so thoroughly American as Walt Whitman (1819- 1892)? His book of verse, Leaves Of Grass (1855), holds the essence of being an American. It also reflects on the ways in which our country’s ideals have been forsaken. Whitman’s personal life suffered much because of our American Puritan taboos against sex.
For too many people, and you know who I mean, Whitman is also the USA’s biggest embarrassment. He writes that for our democracy to be true, the American ideal of universal equality must embrace LGBTQ people. Whitman is a subversive and radical poet. American school children for the past 60 years have been carefully protected from exposure to him. I did not read Whitman until I was finished with college, when my mother, of all people, gave me a volume of Leaves Of Grass as a gift.
A leaf for hand in hand;
You natural persons old and young!
You on the Mississippi and on all the branches and bayous of the Mississippi!
You friendly boatmen and mechanics! You roughs!
You twain! And all processions moving along the streets!
I wish to infuse myself among you till I see it common for you to walk hand in hand.