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Legendary American Poet Whitman Lauded in Washington

Tuesday May 31 was the anniversary of the birth of American poet Walt Whitman, who is being celebrated in the United States this year for his greatest work, "Leaves of Grass."

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

In honor of Walt Whitman's 186th birthday, the Library of Congress organized a reading of "Song of Myself," one of the most famous poems from "Leaves of Grass."

I loaf and invite my soul,
I lean and loaf at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

"Leaves of Grass" delights in Nature and the material world, and praises the human senses. To Whitman, both the human body and the human mind are worthy of poetic praise.

Patricia Gray organized the Library of Congress poetry reading. She said the poems have special relevance to the development of the United States.

"When "Leaves of Grass" was published, it helped shaped an expansive, inclusive dream of democracy," Ms. Gray says.

I am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

The poems may be old, but according to Kim Roberts, the editor of an online poetry journal, they still have meaning at home and abroad.

"The poems in "Leaves of Grass" talk about a sort of yearning for freedom of the human spirit, and do so in language that I think continues to inspire. And it's certainly relevant for today, with so much war and conflict around the world to read poems that celebrate the human spirit and celebrate what is common to all of us, rather than being divisive," Ms. Roberts says.

Ms. Roberts calls "Leaves of Grass" a masterpiece of American literature. She says there are some uniquely American details about Walt Whitman's poems, but that his themes are basic and instinctual, and have universal appeal.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me at one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.