New Orleans. -- Why are people still afraid of Walt Whitman? According to Sam Abrams, editor of ''The Neglected Walt Whitman,'' just published by Four Walls/Eight Windows, they are afraid enough to hide some of his best poems. The Library of America's ''Complete Poetry and Collected Prose,'' for instance, fails to reproduce one of the poet's most subversive works, ''Respondez!,'' a poem that reveals a whole different Whitman, far different from the optimistic trumpeter of American democracy known to generations of school children.
''Stifled, O days! O lands! in every public and private corruption! Smother'd in thievery, impotence, shamelessness, mountain-high;/ Brazen effrontery, scheming, rolling like ocean's waves around and upon you, O my days! O my lands! For not even those thunderstorms, nor fiercest lightning of the war, have purified the atmosphere!; . . . Let the eminence of meanness, treachery, sarcasm, hate, greed, indecency, impotency, lust, be taken for granted above all! Let writers, judges, governments, households, religions, philosophies, take such for granted above all!/ Let the priest still play at immortality! Let death be inaugurated.''