The Written Image: Walt Whitman

In 1855 Walt Whitman published—at his own expense—a volume of 12 poems titled Leaves of Grass. It was described by Emily Dickinson as “disgraceful” and by Ralph Waldo Emerson as “the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America had yet contributed” to world literature. This image is a steel engraving by Samuel Hollyer of the daguerreotype by Gabriel Harrison that appeared in the first edition of Leaves of Grass. Of the image, Whitman said, “The worst thing about this is, that I look so damned flamboyant—as if I was

hurling bolts at somebody—full of mad oaths—saying defiantly, to hell with you!” To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the book’s publication, the Washington Friends of Walt Whitman is cosponsoring a citywide festival from March 26 (the day of Whitman’s death) to May 31 (his birthday). Events include walking tours, tributes, a luncheon, and poetry readings by Mark Doty, Anne Waldman, Grace Cavalieri, and others. For more information, visit the Web site at