Books: The First All-American Poet

WALT WHITMAN: A LIFE by Justin Kaplan; 429pages; Simon & Schuster; $15

When he was good he was very, very good, the words flowing freely as birdsong: "Solitary the thrush,/ The hermit withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,/ Sings by himself a song./ Song of the bleeding throat." When he was bad he was the bombastic wizard of "O," pouring forth jingo and transcendental eyewash: "O sacred Union!. . . O air and soil! . . . O universal Muse!" As Walt Whitman, creator of the athletic and homoerotic poetry in Leaves of Grass, he...

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