Summary and Analysis: Inscriptions Introduction


The 1871 edition of Leaves of Grass contained nine poems classified as Inscriptions; the 1881 edition contained twentyfour such poems, including two long ones, "Starting from Paumanok" and "Song of Myself."

The Inscriptions are dedicatory poems and form a preface to the main body of Leaves of Grass. This group of poems does not, however, indicate any well-thought-out plan or organization — it seems, rather, an improvised prologue. The themes are diverse, the symbolism is varied, and the only thing which really holds the group together is the poet's clear intention to provide a prologue. The lack of unity in theme and the general lack of close-knit organization is partly due to Whitman's continual reclassification of his poems. Some of the poems in Inscriptions were at first included with other sections of Leaves.

The arrangement of the poems in Inscriptions does, however, suggest the general arrangement of Leaves of Grass, a natural biographical sequence in which the early poems deal with youth and the later ones with old age and approaching death.