Here is what has come to the surface after so many throes and convulsions.
Eternal progress, the kosmos, and the modern reports.
The poem's cultural project is announced in 'Starting from Paumanok,' a piece that was originally titled 'Proto-Leaf' and that serves as a general introduction to the entire Leaves. In it, the poet takes his birthplace as his point of poetic departure and provides a list of the scarcely formed, raw materials from which the poem and nation are to be composed. He associates his personal vision with the growth of America, and this conjunction of individual, natural progress and nation building enables him to 'strike up for a New World':
If it can be generally stated that nineteenth-century European 'high' culture valued poetic discourse over the less codified practices of everyday language, then Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass is an attempt to give everyday American linguistic usage poetic value. Whitman's poem includes discourse that does not comply with the traditions of European poetics but that is proclaimed nevertheless to be poetry in order to suggest that the liberal-democratic American state has a natural beauty equivalent to the most refined poem. Leaves demonstrates this national beauty by including a wide variety of utterances and observations in its epic project, even though this inclusiveness also implies a critique of the project that the work undertakes. The ambitious extent of this collection threatens the identity and distinctiveness of the literary text itself. Like a state with poorly defined borders and institutions, a work that intends to articulate such an inclusive democratic poetic voice challenges the necessary formal distinctiveness that would recognizably make it a form of literary discourse. The result is that Leaves must solicit the willing participation of its readers in order to realize the project that it undertakes. Whitman's poetry requires that the reader constantly renew its discourse by reinvesting it with new poetic meaning and, as a result, reaffirming it as the poetry of a flourishing, liberal American state.
UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 64, NUMBER 2, SPRING 1995 How curious! how real!
Underfoot the divine soil, overhead the sun.
The indissoluble compacts, riches, mystery,
This then is life,
See revolving the globe
Victory, union, faith, identity, time,