Leaves of Grass

The first edition of Whitman’s major poetic work was published in 1855 at his own expense, and bore only his image—no name. From the first to the last of the six editions of "Leaves of Grass," the structure and layout of the book was invested (to the extent that he could influence them) with as much significance by Whitman as the words themselves. We are reminded of this when we consider his lifelong involvement with printing shops and binderies; he was even known to have set the type for many of his publications himself.

Arranged here and in the "Other Writings and Publications" section is a selection of editions of "Leaves of Grass" that span the period from 1855 to 1955, from the exceedingly rare early editions to beautiful fine-press examples brought out long after his death. Though these later examples (one of which is, amusingly enough, bound with materials apparently meant to resemble grass) cannot be said necessarily to have lent expression in every case to Whitman’s particular vision of the ideal fusion between the word and its vehicle, it is certainly true that many of them aim at a realization in illustration and form of the themes the poet addressed throughout his career.

Leaves of Grass, 1856, second edition, title page

Second edition (1856)

Leaves of Grass, Third edition, 1860, title page

Third edition (1860)

Fifth Edition, 1881-82, title page

5th edition (1881-82) Boston

5th edition, page 29 with illustration

5th edition, 1881-82, page 29, James R. Osgood and Company. This is the first edition to have the poems from "Passage to India" incorporated in the main body of the work.

1884 Mckay edition, cover

1884 McKay edition: A later issue of the first Philadelphia edition. David McKay, the publisher, was Whitman’s friend.

McKay edition cover, 1884

1884 McKay edition: title page