Wow, I just read the Preface to the very first edition of Leaves of Grass, the 1855 edition. The Preface and entire 1855 edition can be found on the Archive. Take a look at the passage below and I’ll share a few of my observations. Whitman writes:
There are a few reasons why I find this passage so intriguing and compelling. For one, it is very bold – it jumps right off the page at me! Walt writes, “This is what you shall do:” Using the word “you” is risky, maybe even audacious. It’s a word I always use with caution. But not only does Whitman point his finger at us and say “you” – in one long sentence he actually – tells you – what you really should do! Wow, that is bold!
Another reason this stands out so daringly is that we can see that Whitman really was a radical in his day. He tells you to: “…despise riches, argue not concerning God, take off your hat to nothing, go freely…” What he says here, what he advises you to do, is to go against the grain; blaze your own trail; and be your own true self. These ideas and his suggestions are thought provoking and profound.
I also believe this intrinsic passage truly is timeless. What Whitman wrote some 150 years ago, is as relevant today as it was in his own day. Maybe I am a radical myself, but I find that this entire passage really resonates with me, I might even call it my mantra. Perhaps a point for further study, Whitman here, in my mind, is the captain of the modern era counterculture, and I find myself happy to be on-board his ship!