Published in The United States Review in September 1855, an appreciation of the poet Walt Whitman’s collection Leaves of Grass opened by exclaiming: ‘An American bard at last! … his voice bringing hope and prophecy to the generous races of young and old.’ Unusually, the author of the review was Whitman himself, offering a positive assessment of his work that was lacking elsewhere. The New Criterion had called Leaves ‘a mass of stupid filth’; the Sunday Press suggested Whitman, then 37, kill himself. In fact, only Whitman’s death could bring an end to Leaves. Now firmly embedded in the canon of American verse, Whitman revised, added and republished the collection for the rest of his life.
For all writers everywhere, at any stage in their lives, there is a message here: writing is like a sculpture; first it’s a piece of expressionless stone and then you start to chip away at it. In time, even stone changes.