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Walt Whitman is the one made famous by the first edition of Leaves of Grass, published on this day in 1855. Whitman clearly chose America's Independence Day as the right moment to launch his poems. His Preface to the first edition — almost a poem itself, and almost 10,000 words long — claims that "The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem," one made from "the roughs and beards and space and ruggedness and nonchalance" of "the common people":

 

Their manners, speech, dress, friendship—the freshness and candor of their physiognomy—the picturesque looseness of their carriage ... their deathless attachment to freedom—their aversion to anything indecorous or soft or mean—the practical acknowledgment of the citizens of one state by the citizens of all other states—the fierceness of their roused resentment—their curiosity and welcome of novelty—their self-esteem and wonderful sympathy—their susceptibility to a slight—the air they have of persons who never knew how it felt to stand in the presence of superiors—the fluency of their speech—their delight in music, the sure symptom of manly tenderness and native elegance of soul ... their good temper and open handedness—the terrible significance of their elections—the President’s taking off his hat to them, not they to him—these too are unrhymed poetry. It awaits the gigantic and generous treatment worthy of it. -- Copyright 2000-2005. Today in Literature.

 

 

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" -
Emma Lazarus

 

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