Whitman’s “Recycled” Words

Quick post about an observation that just occurred to me. I was just reading the Preface to the 1855 Leaves of Grass and I stumbled across these little nuggets:

“The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem.”


“Here is not merely a nation but a teeming nation of nations.”


‘Here is action united from strings necessarily blind to particulars and details magnificently moving in vast masses.”


“Here are the roughs and beards and space and ruggedness and nonchalance that the soul loves.”


“Here the performance disdaining the trivial unapproached in the tremendous audacity of its crowds and groupings and the push of its perspective spreads with crampless and flowing breadth and showers its prolific and splendid extravagance.”

After reading through these “heres”, I couldn’t shake this feeling that I had read this some where else. Check out this stanza from “By Blue Ontario’s Shore”(1856, 1881):

“These states are the amplest poem,

Here is not merely a nation but a teeming Nation of nations,

Here the doings of men correspond with the broadest doings of the day and night,

Here is what moves in magnificent masses careless of particulars,

Here are the roughs, beards, friendliness, combativeness, the soul loves,

Here the flowing trains, here the crowds, equality, diversity, the soul loves.”

The poem pulls, almost verbatim, from the preface. Can someone plagiarize them self? Fanny Fern does advise in her article “Borrowed Light” to find a great writer and copy their writings as closely as possible, perhaps Whitman is just followed her advice and selected himself as a great writer. What do you guys make of this? Any more examples of Walt’s “recycled” words?

  1. #1 by Mirko Filipovic on September 25, 2010 - 6:26 am

    This is the 2nd occasion I have come across your blog post in the last couple weeks. Seems like I ought to take note of it.

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