'I celebrate myself, And what I assume you shall assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. I loafe and invite my soul, I lean and loafe at my ease....observing a spear of summer grass.' So begins Leaves of Grass, the first great American poem and indeed, to this day, the greatest and most essentially American poem in all our national literature. The publication of Leaves of Grass in July 1855 was a landmark event in literary history. Ralph Waldo Emerson judged the book 'the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom America has yet contributed.' Nothing like the volume had ever appeared before. Everything about it-the unusual jacket and title page, the exuberant preface, the twelve free-flowing, untitled poems embracing every realm of experience-was new. The 1855 edition broke new ground in its relaxed style, which prefigured free verse; in its sexual candor; in its images of racial bonding and democratic togetherness; and in the intensity of its affirmation of the sanctity of the physical world.