Study Guide

Walt Whitman Reactions & Revisions

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Reactions & Revisions

For all of these reasons, readers of Leaves of Grass came away with one of two reactions: either they thought it was genius, or they thought it was filth. On the positive side, Whitman received a letter from Ralph Waldo Emerson, the Transcendentalist thinker and the Sage of Concord, hailing Leaves as a work of genius. "I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed," Emerson wrote. "I greet you at the beginning of a great career." he said. He wrote anonymous reviews of his own book and planted them in the literary reviews. He also reprinted Emerson's congratulatory letter in the 1856 edition of Leaves, without asking the poet's permission. Emerson was furious. Nonetheless, Emerson's Transcendentalist neighbors in Concord, Henry David Thoreau and Bronson Alcott, traveled to New York in November 1856 to meet Whitman.

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