First read: 1980
Owned since: 1981
Walt Whitman goes in and out of fashion. Snobs snickered when Ken Starr revealed that Bill Clinton gave Monica Lewinsky a copy of Leaves of Grass, as if liking Whitman were just one more embarrassing indiscretion.
But Whitman is our American poet, and Leaves of Grass is a love letter to the dream of the United States: the individual among the many, the quest for progress and self-improvement and beauty.
We all had to read "I Hear America Singing" in elementary school, but have you looked at the poem as an adult? It describes a culture of self-reliance that seems to have passed into history. "Each singing what belongs to him or her and to no one else,/The day what belongs to the day--"
This book was another Field Day acquisition. I know for certain that it was 1981, because we read some of these poems in Mr. Babcock's English class, and I fell in love with the idea of Whitman before I really understood the poems. If I really understand the poems, even now.
I'm not going to waste my time defending it. I'll just say that every American household should own a copy of this book, if only for the poem "To You":
Stranger! if you, passing, meet me, and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me?
And why should I not speak to you?