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The Aventine Leaves of Grass!

By (September 9, 2015) No Comment

leaves of grassOur book today is Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass – and only Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, here presented in a hefty green-jacketed 1931 hardcover from the old Aventine Press, whose editors decided to present the author’s 1892 edition of his great work entirely without critical apparatus of any kind. I found this Aventine volume (at my beloved Brattle Bookshop, of course)(where they’ll be happy to make out gift certificates in any amount over the phone, should any of you wish to give Steve a pleasant surprise) and snapped it up even though I already have both the Penguin Classic and the Oxford World’s Classic, but those volumes come laden with notes, and sometimes, perversely, I feel the need to approach a work bare, without intermediaries. It’s perverse because of course I love critical annotation and have been known to buy duplicate volumes of some classic or other on the strength of the Introduction alone.

But in the run-up to Labor Day, in these long days where every evening draws down a bit earlier than the one before it and where the pre-dawn mornings have begun to whisper about the coming cold, sometimes I want the classics themselves, just their piping voices, with no clarifications however intriguing. I instantly liked the way the Aventine Press got out of Whitman’s way, and I spent a languorous afternoon reading through this gaudy, self-indulgent work of genius I used to despise – including, appropriately enough for Labor Day, his weird, delirious “Salut au Monde!”:

I see the menials of the earth, laboring,

I see all the pensioners in the prisons,

I see the defective human bodies of the earth,

The blind, the deaf and dumb, idiots, hunchbacks, lunatics,

The pirates, thieves, betrayers, murderers, slave-makers of the earth,

The helpless infants, and the helpless old men and women.

I see male and female everywhere,

I see the serene brotherhood of philosophs,

I see the constructiveness of my race,

I see the results of the perseverance and industry of my race,

I see ranks, colors, barbarisms, civilizations, I go among them. I mix indiscriminately.

And I salute all the inhabitants of the earth.

There’s the gentle, glinting companionability of the work, which I once hated as addle-pated pandering but now see for something very close to what it’s inscrutable author might have intended, a kind of chanting deep honesty that takes a few readings to feel out completely, especially if the reader, like me, is fighting the process the whole time (as I was recently reminded, there’s a great line in An Experiment in Criticism by C. S. Lewis: “The first demand any work of art makes upon us is surrender”). The other day, opening this green Aventine volume on a hot late summer evening, I was perfectly ready to lucy reads leaves of grassencounter something like “A Song of the Rolling Earth”:

I swear the earth shall surely be complete to him or her who shall be complete,

The earth remains jagged and broken only to him or her who remains jagged and broken.

I swear there is no greatness or power that does not emulate those of the earth,

There can be no theory of any account unless it corroborate the theory of the earth,

No politics, song, religion, behavior, or what not, is of account, unless it compares with the amplitude of the earth,

Unless it face the exactness, vitality, impartiality, rectitude of the earth.

I swear I begin to see love with sweeter spasms than that which responds love,

It is that which contains itself, which never invites and never refuses.

I swear I begin to see little or nothing in audible word,

All merges toward the presentation of the unspoken meanings of the earth,

Toward him who sings the songs of the body and of the truths of the earth,

Toward him who makes the dictionaries of words that print cannot touch.

I still love annotated editions of everything, of course, but I have a strong feeling the next time I’m compelled to pull down Leaves of Grass, it’ll be this Aventine one.

Home » stevereads

The Aventine Leaves of Grass!

By (September 9, 2015) No Comment

leaves of grassOur book today is Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass – and only Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, here presented in a hefty green-jacketed 1931 hardcover from the old Aventine Press, whose editors decided to present the author’s 1892 edition of his great work entirely without critical apparatus of any kind. I found this Aventine volume (at my beloved Brattle Bookshop, of course)(where they’ll be happy to make out gift certificates in any amount over the phone, should any of you wish to give Steve a pleasant surprise) and snapped it up even though I already have both the Penguin Classic and the Oxford World’s Classic, but those volumes come laden with notes, and sometimes, perversely, I feel the need to approach a work bare, without intermediaries. It’s perverse because of course I love critical annotation and have been known to buy duplicate volumes of some classic or other on the strength of the Introduction alone.

But in the run-up to Labor Day, in these long days where every evening draws down a bit earlier than the one before it and where the pre-dawn mornings have begun to whisper about the coming cold, sometimes I want the classics themselves, just their piping voices, with no clarifications however intriguing. I instantly liked the way the Aventine Press got out of Whitman’s way, and I spent a languorous afternoon reading through this gaudy, self-indulgent work of genius I used to despise – including, appropriately enough for Labor Day, his weird, delirious “Salut au Monde!”:

I see the menials of the earth, laboring,

I see all the pensioners in the prisons,

I see the defective human bodies of the earth,

The blind, the deaf and dumb, idiots, hunchbacks, lunatics,

The pirates, thieves, betrayers, murderers, slave-makers of the earth,

The helpless infants, and the helpless old men and women.

I see male and female everywhere,

I see the serene brotherhood of philosophs,

I see the constructiveness of my race,

I see the results of the perseverance and industry of my race,

I see ranks, colors, barbarisms, civilizations, I go among them. I mix indiscriminately.

And I salute all the inhabitants of the earth.

There’s the gentle, glinting companionability of the work, which I once hated as addle-pated pandering but now see for something very close to what it’s inscrutable author might have intended, a kind of chanting deep honesty that takes a few readings to feel out completely, especially if the reader, like me, is fighting the process the whole time (as I was recently reminded, there’s a great line in An Experiment in Criticism by C. S. Lewis: “The first demand any work of art makes upon us is surrender”). The other day, opening this green Aventine volume on a hot late summer evening, I was perfectly ready to lucy reads leaves of grassencounter something like “A Song of the Rolling Earth”:

I swear the earth shall surely be complete to him or her who shall be complete,

The earth remains jagged and broken only to him or her who remains jagged and broken.

I swear there is no greatness or power that does not emulate those of the earth,

There can be no theory of any account unless it corroborate the theory of the earth,

No politics, song, religion, behavior, or what not, is of account, unless it compares with the amplitude of the earth,

Unless it face the exactness, vitality, impartiality, rectitude of the earth.

I swear I begin to see love with sweeter spasms than that which responds love,

It is that which contains itself, which never invites and never refuses.

I swear I begin to see little or nothing in audible word,

All merges toward the presentation of the unspoken meanings of the earth,

Toward him who sings the songs of the body and of the truths of the earth,

Toward him who makes the dictionaries of words that print cannot touch.

I still love annotated editions of everything, of course, but I have a strong feeling the next time I’m compelled to pull down Leaves of Grass, it’ll be this Aventine one.