About the Editor: Ira Chernus

I am a retired professor of religious studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. You can find my brief biography here. I don’t have any formal training or expertise in literature. But I’ve been a great fan of Whitman’s poetry from the day I discovered it, sitting on a friend’s back porch on a beautiful afternoon in 1972 or ’73. I’ve been reading Leaves of Grass ever since, for the sheer pleasure of it. My one previous contribution to the literature on Whitman is an essay on his mythic vision of America, in my website MythicAmerica: Essays.

A few years ago I started jotting down lines that I liked the best and found most meaningful. Being an academic, I started organizing those lines in some logical order, grouping them according to themes and topics. I enjoyed the process a lot. After I retired, with more time on my hands, I added more lines, explored more themes, drew on more of Whitman’s writings, and the project kept on growing.  Eventually I got the idea of sharing it with others by putting it online.

This anthology is not at all intended to be definitive. It is a work in progress. I do it for the pleasure of the process more than for producing an end product. Perhaps that was true of Whitman too. He certainly followed his own dictum: A great poem is no finish to a man or woman but rather a beginning. Thenceforward is no rest. I hope to keep up the process as he did, editing, amending, and adding to my text for a long time to come. Come back to any page in the future and you may find it a bit (or perhaps very) different than it is now.

Trying to find, or create, logical patterns in the whole corpus of Whitman’s writings is a humbling experience. At every step of the way I learned again and again the truth of his warning:
These leaves and me you will not understand,
They will elude you at first and still more afterward, I will certainly elude you.
Even while you should think you had unquestionably caught me, behold!
Already you see I have escaped from you.

Indeed, the good gray poet has constantly been escaping from me, constantly moving ahead of me. My only consolation is the promise with which he ended “Song of Myself”:
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.

I trust that he is still waiting for me—and for you, dear reader. I would be happy to receive your comments and suggestions for future additions to, or changes in, my text; write to wordsofwhitman@gmail.com. And perhaps you will be moved to create a Walt Whitman anthology of your own.