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Walt Whitman, half-length portrait, seated, facing left, wearing hat and sweater, holding butterfly

[Detail] Walt Whitman holding butterfly

The Poet and Poetry

Walt Whitman's anonymous publication of the first edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855 introduced a revolutionary new form of verse. Notebook #80 contains trial flights of verse which later evolved into "Song of Myself"--the opening section of Leaves of Grass. On pages 65 and 68-72, Whitman breaks off from prose ruminations and speaks--perhaps for the first time--in the revolutionary verse form he created. Furthermore, these lines announce Whitman's unique conception of the role of the poet and the use of poetry. Have students read and discuss pages 21, 35-36, and 110 of Notebook #80. Ask them what they think Whitman is contending and what they think about it. Are his ideas novel or familiar? Realistic or impractical?