On 5 July 1855, the day after the publication of Leaves of Grass, literary critics began thinking about how best to imitate Whitman. Few are the authors who inspire the flattery of imitation more than he! Few are the critics who are able to resist the urge to flatter any else but he! Few are the sentences in which I'll continue to enact the enthused imitations I mock!
Think I'm making this up? The following might be far less successful than zunguzungu's found Williams, but the poemified version of the anonymous review of Leaves of Grass from the September 1855 edition of The United States Review certainly is telling.
In a way, this is an extreme version of a common critical vice: read too much of this or that to the exclusion of all else and you'll start to inhabit the voice you purport to study. The linked example may be Derrida, but read a few books on Joyce and Faulkner and you'll see the same unhealthy attitude abounds. But I digress.
On to the ersatz American heart of the body poetic!
Walt Whitman and His Poems
An American bard at last!
One of the roughs, large, proud, affectionate, eating, drinking, and breeding,
His costume manly and free,
His face sunburnt and bearded,
His postures strong and erect,
His voice bringing hope and prophecy to the generous races of young and old.
We shall cease shamming and be what we really are.
We shall start an athletic and defiant literature.
We realize now how it is and what was most lacking.
The interior American republic shall also be declared free and independent.
For all our intellectual people,
Followed by their books, poems, essays, editorials, lectures, tuitions, and criticisms,
Dress by London and Paris modes, receive what is received there,
Obey the authorities,
Settle disputes by the old tests,
Keep out of rain and sun,
Retreat to the shelter of houses and schools,
Trim their hair, shave, touch not the earth barefoot,
And enter not the sea except in a complete bathing dress.
One sees unmistakably genteel persons,
Traveled, college-learned, used to being served by servants,
Conversing without heat or vulgarity,
Supported on chairs or walking through handsomely-carpeted parlors,
Or along shelves bearing well-bound volumes.
Where in American literature is the first show of America?
Where are the gristle and beards, and broad breasts, and space and ruggedness and nonchalance that the souls of the people love?
Where is the majesty of the federal mother, seated with more than antique grace, calm, just, indulgent to her brood of children, calling them around her, regarding the large and the young and the older with perfect impartiality?
Where is the vehement growth of our cities?
Where is the spirit of the strong rich life of the American mechanic, farmer, sailor, hunter, and miner?
Where is the huge composite of all other nations, cast in a fresher and brawnier matrix, passing adolescence, and needed this day, live and arrogant, to lead the marches of the world?
Self-reliant, with haughty eyes, assuming to himself all attributes of his country, steps Walt Whitman into literature!
Talking like a man unaware that there was ever hitherto such a production as a book, or such as being as a writer,
Every move of him has the free play of the muscle of one who never knew what it was to feel that he stood in the presence of a superior.
Every word that falls from his mouth shows silent disdain and defiance of old theories and forms.
Every phrase announces new laws—not once do his lips unclose except in conformity to them.
He makes audacious and native uses of his own body and soul.
He recreates poetry with the elements at hand.
He imbues it with himself as he is,
Disorderly, fleshy, and sensual,
Lover of things,
Yet lover of men and women above the whole of other objects in the universe.
His work is to be achieved by unusual methods!
Not a whisper comes out of him of the old stock talk of rhyme and poetry,
Not the first recognition of gods or goddesses or Greece or Rome.
No breath of Europe,
Or her monarchies,
Or her priestly conventions,
Or her gentlemen and ladies,
Or her idea of caste,
Seems ever to have fanned his face or been inhaled into his lungs.
In their stead pour vast and fluid the fresh mentality of this mighty age and the realities of this mighty continent and the sciences and inventions discoveries of this present world.
Not geology, nor mathematics, nor chemistry, nor navigation, nor astronomy, nor anatomy, nor physiology, nor engineering,
Is more true to itself than Whitman is to them.