In his 1859 “Live Oak, with Moss,” Walt Whitman’s unpublished sheaf of twelve poems on manly passion, the poet dreams of a city where men who love men can live and love openly. The revised “Live Oak, with Moss” poems became “Calamus,” Whitman’s cluster of poems on “adhesive” and manly love, comradeship, and democracy, in Leaves of Grass. Commemorating both the first publication of the “Calamus” poems and the little-known manuscript of notebook poems out of which the “Calamus” cluster grew, Whitman scholar Betsy Erkkila brings together in a single edition for the first time facsimiles of the “Live Oak, with Moss” poems, the 1860 “Calamus” poems, and the final 1881 “Calamus” poems. In addition to honoring the sesquicentennial of the “Calamus” cluster, she celebrates the ongoing legacy of Whitman’s songs of manly passion, sex, and love.
The volume begins with Whitman’s elegantly handwritten manuscript of the “Live Oak, with Moss” poems, printed side by side with a typeset transcription and followed by a facsimile of the 1860 version of the “Calamus” poems. The concluding section reprints the final version of the “Calamus” poems from the 1881 edition of Leaves of Grass. In an afterword, Erkkila discusses the radical nature of these poems in literary, sexual, and social history; the changes Whitman made in the “Live Oak” and “Calamus” poems in the post–Civil War and Reconstruction years; the literary, political, and other contests surrounding the poems; and the constitutive role the poems have played in the emergence of modern heterosexual and homosexual identity in the United States and worldwide. The volume closes with a selected bibliography of works that have contributed to the critical and interpretive struggles surrounding Whitman’s man-loving life.
One hundred and fifty years after Whitman’s brave decision to speak publicly about a fully realized democracy, his country is still locked in a struggle over the rights of homosexuals. These public battles have been at the very center of controversies over the life, work, and legacy of Walt Whitman, America’s (and the world’s) major poet of democracy and its major singer of what he called “manly love” in all its moods. Together the poems in this omnibus volume affirm his creation of a radical new language designed to convey and affirm the poet’s man love.
“How marvelous to enjoy in this one publication the three major versions of Walt Whitman’s exquisite poems of love and lust between men, and then Betsy Erkkila’s new, provocative analysis of Whitman’s revisions of these poems, their sexual and affectional content, and their present import.”—Jonathan Ned Katz, author, Love Stories: Sex between Men before Homosexuality
“This valuable edition riveting attention on the ‘Calamus’ poems is perfectly timed. Erkkila says they are about ‘men loving men—physically, socially, sexually, spiritually, and naturally.’ Should ‘maritally’ be added? ‘Calamus,’ arguably the pivot point of Whitman’s legacy, can help us decide as Perry v. Schwarzenegger—the landmark federal decision declaring unconstitutional any law prohibiting same-sex marriage—wends its way to the Supreme Court.”—Gary Schmidgall, author, Walt Whitman: A Gay Life