"I intend to move heaven & earth to publish my 'Drum Taps.'"
-Walt Whitman from his notebook
“[Drum-Taps] is in my opinion superior to Leaves of Grass—certainly more perfect as a work of art...”
-Walt Whitman in a letter to a friend
FIRST EDITION OF WHITMAN'S IMPORTANT COLLECTION OF CIVIL WAR POEMS. THE PREFERRED "SECOND ISSUE" WITH THE FIRST APPEARANCE OF THE "SEQUEL" CONTAINING POEMS WHITMAN WROTE AFTER THE DEATH OF LINCOLN.
Drum-Taps, Walt Whitman’s first book of poems not entitled Leaves of Grass, emerged from seismic shifts in Walt Whitman the man, Walt Whitman the writer, and the American nation. While Leaves of Grass is a work of joyful exuberance, youthful exploration, sexual liberation, and a metaphorical consummation of a man’s love for his nation, Drum-Taps offers no such euphoric exaltations. After years of civil war, Whitman could no longer embrace the nation as a unified land of hope, open spaces, and endless possibilities; indeed, after visiting his brother George on the battlefield in 1863, Whitman famously joined the war effort – not as a soldier – but as a nurse. Beside the injured and dying men on the battlefields, Whitman soberly experienced a new America – one with great suffering and bloodshed. One of the early works published after the American Civil War, Drum-Taps reflects a personal and national transition from innocence to experience.
Aware of the drastic changes in his nation and his poetry, Whitman made the rare decision not to publish his new poems through a revision of Leaves of Grass, but rather, for the first time, to publish an entirely new book of poems, with its own name. Drum-Taps, a title that echoes the aftermath of the war, is a far more sobering title than Leaves of Grass.
During the final stage of the war, Whitman, eager to publish Drum-Taps as quickly as possible, declared in his journal: "I intend to move heaven & earth to publish my 'Drum Taps.'” A paper shortage, however, threatened his plans, and rather than wait until the price of paper went down as his publisher Peter Eckler suggested, Whitman opted to find a more affordable way to print by ordering larger paper (which was more cost efficient) and squeezing his poems together wherever he could find space, a process he called “condensing.” Thus, the poems are not so much arranged thematically, as economically; and he did manage to shift his vision of Drum-Taps from a 120 page volume to one of about 72 pages. As he did with Leaves of Grass, Whitman scrupulously watched over the printing process of Drum-Taps.
If this were the complete story of Drum-Taps, the work would deserve a central place in Whitman’s oeuvre. But like so much in Whitman’s writing and life, the publication of Drum-Taps took a surprisingly dramatic turn. While the copies were coming off the printing presses in mid April of 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford's Theater in Washington D.C.
Rather than continue with the printing and binding, Whitman halted the process, fearing that the book was now unfinished without sufficient recognition of Abraham Lincoln’s death. Over the next few months, Whitman hurriedly wrote an additional eighteen poems including some of his most famous and celebrated ones honoring Abraham Lincoln such as “When Lilacs Last in the Door-Yard Bloom’d" and “Oh, Captain! My Captain!” Remarkably, the revised book was ready by November of 1865.
Always with an eye toward economy, Whitman chose to sew together the original Drum-Taps with the eighteen post-assassination poems, which he called Sequel to Drum-Taps: When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd and Other Pieces. Whitman chose for the title a font comprised of broken limbs and branches, alluding to the fragmented nation attempting to regrow. We see his love for the symbolic with his fragmented publication date: 1865-6. The date and the poems bridge the final year of the war with the first year of reconstruction.
Whitman the book-printer is known to have personally sewn books together as he did when he later incorporated Drum-Taps into the 1867 version of Leaves of Grass. In this book, too, we see the stitching of a careful hand threading the Drum-Taps and Sequel to Drum-Taps together. The act of sewing offers symbolic significance, metaphorically representing a torn nation clumsily stitching itself together.
While 1000 copies of this important second issue of Drum-Taps were printed, many of the copies were sewn (often by Whitman himself) into the 1867 edition of Leaves of Grass. Thus it is unclear how many copies of Drum-Taps as an independent text exist.
Folsom, Ed. Whitman Making Books/ Book Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary.
Gutman, Huck. “The Walt Whitman Archive.” Huck Gutman, "Drum-Taps (1865)" (Criticism).
New York (first part) and Washington, DC (2nd part): [Walt Whitman for Peter Eckler], 1865-1866. Small octavo (apprx. 7 1/8 x 4 5/8 in), original brown cloth decorated with gilt title medallion on front board and blind-stamped title device on rear board. Housed in custom silk box. Inner hinge strengthened. Cloth very fresh with only slight rippling to cloth on front board and small chips to spine ends. Text exceptionally clean.
A BEAUTIFUL COPY OF A RARE AND NOTORIOUSLY FRAGILE BOOK.
Price: $9,500 .