Grits and Tamales

Life in the Deep South, by Gabriel Aguilera

From the preface to Leaves of Grass, 1868

“During the summer of 1867 I had the opportunity (which I had often wished for) of expressing in print my estimate and admiration of the works of the American poet Walt Whitman. Like a stone dropped into a pond, an article of that sort may spread out its concentric circles of consequences.”

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“Whitman is a poet who bears and needs to be read as a whole, and then the torrent of his power carry the disfigurements along with it, and away.”

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“With all his singularities, Whitman is a master of words and sounds: he has them at his command–made for, and instinct with, his purpose–messengers of unsurpassable sympathy and intelligence between himself and his readers.”

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“[If] anything can cast, in the eyes of posterity, an added halo of brightness around the unsullied personal qualities and the great doings of Lincoln, it will assuredly be the written monument reared to him by Whitman.”

An observation of Whitman, from a Mr. Conway: “I saw stretched upon his back, and gazing up straight at the terrible sun, the man I was seeking. With his grey clothing, his blue-grey shirt, his iron-grey hair, his swart sunburnt face and bare neck, he lay upon the brown-and-white grass–for the sun had burnt away its greenness–and was so like the earth upon which he rested that he seemed almost enough a part of it for one to pass by without recognition…he confided to me that this was one of his favorite places and attitudes for composing ‘poems.’…The books he seemed to know an love best were the Bible, Homer, and Shakespeare: these he owned, and probably had in his pockets while we were talking…He confessed to having no talent for industry, and that his forte was ‘loafing and writing poems:’ he was poor, but had discovered that he could on the whole, live magnificently on bread and water…

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“Walt Whitman occupies at the present moment a unique position on the globe, and one which, even in past time, can have been occupied by only an infinitesimally small number of men. He is the one man who entertains and professes respecting himself the grave conviction that he is the actual and prospective founder of a new poetic literature, and a great one–a literature proportional to the material vastness and the unmeasured destinies of America: he believes that the Columbus of the continent or the Washington of the States was not more truly than himself in the future of a founder and up builder of this America. Surely a sublime conviction, and expressed more than once in magnificent words–none more so than the lines beginning “Come, I will make this continent indissoluble.”(from Love of Comrades).

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“I believe that Whitman is one of the huge, as yet mainly unrecognized, forces of our time; privileged to evoke, in a country hitherto still asking for its poet, a fresh athletic, and American poetry, and predestined to be traced up to by generation after generation of believing and ardent–let us hope not servile–disciples.

“Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Shelley, who knew what he was talking about when poetry was the subject, has said it, and with a profundity of truth Whitman seems in peculiar degree marked out for “legislation” of the kind referred to. His voice will one day be potential or magisterial wherever the English language is spoken–that is to say, in the four corners of the earth; and in his own American hemisphere, the uttermost avatars of democracy will confess him more their announcer than their inspirer.” -W.M. Rossetti

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