On Whitman




In this book, Pulitzer Prize–winning poet C. K. Williams sets aside the mass of biography and literary criticism that has accumulated around Walt Whitman and attempts to go back to Leaves of Grass as he first encountered it—to explore why Whitman's epic "continues to inspire and sometimes daunt" him. The result is a personal reassessment and appreciation of one master poet by another, as well as an unconventional and brilliant introduction to Whitman. Beautifully written and rich with insight, this is a book that refreshes our ability to see Whitman in all his power.


C. K. Williams (1936–2015) won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. He taught creative writing and translation at Princeton University.


"A winning book. . . . Enlightening and often moving."--Helen Vendler, New York Times Book Review

"Whitman, the great New York poet, cries out for evangelization, not explication. Accordingly, in this sweet slip of a book, Williams, himself an eminent poet, lets Walt speak freely, filling many pages with favorite passages, most frequently from the original ‘Leaves of Grass,' of 1855. Williams's own prose is chatty and loose, dipping into big categories like ‘Nature' and ‘America' with the casualness of a Sunday social call."--Leo Carey, New Yorker

"One can see why C.K. Williams, a poet of wide-ranging curiosity and distinctive verbal 'music,' might have been drawn to write an introduction to Whitman. In his use of long, flowing lines--sometimes so long that his publishers have adopted unusually wide pages to accommodate them--Williams can seem to be an heir to Whitman's own poetic practice. There are times in his book on Whitman when Williams confides something that he knows as a poet."--Christopher Benfey, New York Review of Books

"On Whitmanis an admirable homage to a poet without whom C. K. Williams himself would not write as he does."--Stephen Burt, New Republic

"On Whitman is revelatory when it comes to explaining Whitman's poetic gifts. With generous quotations from Leaves of Grass, Williams returns us to Whitman's music, his remarkable fusion of language and song. . . . On Whitman is not simply a personal tribute to Williams' great forerunner. The book rethinks the ways the 'good gray poet' established a language and an identity for future poets."--David Haven Blake, Philadelphia Inquirer

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