A Backward Glance O'er Travel'd Roads

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Whitman's prose epilogue to Leaves of Grass, which served as a preface to November Boughs (1888), and appeared in the collected volume in 1889 for the first time.

Leaves of Grass, according to the essay, is intended “to articulate … uncompromisingly my own physical, emotional, moral, intellectual, and aesthetic Personality, in the midst of, and tallying, the momentous spirit and facts of… current America—and to exploit that Personality, identified with place and date, in a far more candid and comprehensive sense than any hitherto poem or book.” Whitman abandons conventional themes, ornaments, euphemism, and rhyme so as “to conform with and build on the concrete realities of the universe furnish'd by science,” and to root himself “in the emotional and imaginative action of the modern times.” His purpose is to write “poems of realities and science and of the democratic average and basic equality,” but he points out his literary influences, which might have come to naught had not the Civil War given a final reason for “an autochthonic and passionate song.”

Subjects: Literature.

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