I suppose that one of the primary elements of a “classic” work is that it feels unsullied by the bearing of time, that it defies the swings of fashion, that it transcends the circumstances of its historical origin, and resists and survives the ideological checks often imposed upon its vision by contemporary optics. These works, while not encased in perfection or untouchable to fair and leveling criticisms, feel lively and relatable even as they grow distant from their author’s original conception. One of these books for me is Walt Whitman’s epoch poem Leaves of Grass
Years after I first wandered through its sprawling breadth, I can still pick it up today and it will have something profound to say about me and about us. Whitman’s scope was both grand and granular, personal and universal, going where no American writer had previously gone and where few have tread since. His project was to mine the American project with both questions and answers, to boast of its unique exceptionalism and to expose its deeply woven flaws with beauty, intelligence and reverence. As a modern work, birthed over a half of the 19th century, it still holds up as a broad, crowded work of lyric genius that you can pick your way through, hopping around to ignore certain sections while zeroing in on others.