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As for Whitman--collected and selected so often--what, or who, could possibly make another selection seem fresh? Who is definitely Harold Bloom, dean of American literary critics, who considers Whitman "the principal writer that America--North, Central, or South--has brought to us." Bloom's best single descriptive of Whitman is "immediate," to which any reader of "Song of Myself" will assent: Whitman is with his readers ("If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles"). Bloom is concerned with Whitman's construction of his all-encompassing persona, and he selects with that in mind: first, some fragments of what became "Song of Myself"; then the "Song" itself in its final form; then four great poems of, Bloom argues, persona-shaping crisis, as well as "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"; and three sections of other, successively later poems. Bloom connects Whitman's project to the thesis of his The American Religion (1992) that the tendency of religion in America is to replace God with man, and with the fragments, Bloom presents explicit evidence of the attempt. Ray Olson
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Harold Bloom, editor, teaches at Yale and New York University and has written more than twenty major books, including The Anxiety of Influence (1975), The Western Canon (1994), and Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds (2002). He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.