Like America, Walt Whitman and his critical reputation is vast and seemingly everexpanding. This sort of statement, which makes a direct connection between Whitman himself and the country that produced him, has frequently been made by his readers and critics. Indeed, to open this guide to critical readings of Whitman with such a statement might seem to assert that the only way of reading Leaves of Grass is to see it as an expression of exclusively American concerns. And this may well also be the impression gained from the majority of essays in this book. However, it is also important to ask - as indeed recent Whitman critics have done - which particular concerns does Whitman’s poetry express? What version of America does it promote? By tracing the critical history of Whitman’s poetry from the mid-nineteenth century up to the present day, the overall aim of this guide is to show that there are perhaps as many versions of America as there are versions of Whitman. Whitman studies then, do indeed ‘contain multitudes’.
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