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The case of Whitman is a complex one. He's among my favorites, yet Kevin Straw has a point: Whitman's major weakness is long-windedness. I have no doubt that his Song of Myself could have been strengthened by a heavy editorial pen. In this regard, I prefer Dickinson because she understood the power of silence and restraint. Yet at his strongest, Whitman displays symphonic exuberance, and he's unquestionably an innovator, which is why the aforementioned weakness can be forgiven. Innovators make a lot of mistakes, and the refiners, though they might produce more polished poems, are less original (generally) . For example, Yeats is more satisfying than Whitman in that his better poems are polished and condensed, but Whitman is still more original.
Song of Myself is easily THE, American Epic, (along with Moby Dick,) that expresses what a generation felt during that period. Reading it is an exploration into both his world, and your own. It is easily of one of the poems that any avid reader of poetry should read.
'For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you' - Walt Whitman was way ahead of his time when he wrote 'Leaves of Grass' and it seems, for some, he is still way ahead of the times. Great poet! !