The development of the ”Hours continuing long” a.k.a. Calamus 9

Uncategorized 1 Comment »


“Hours continuing long” is the eight poem of the twelve poem sequence Live Oak, with Moss, that Whitman wrote some time in the period between 1856 (second edition of the Leaves of Grass) and 1859, when the poems were ‘neatly copied’ in a notebook  by the abovementioned title. The sequence tells of the love affair that the poet had with another man and was never published; instead, Whitman tore it apart into individual poems, revised some of them and shuffled them and included them among the other poems of the 1860 Calamus cluster.

As for the reason why Whitman did this, the reasons are still in the vague area of speculations. There exist many theories concerning this issue, yet nothing can be claimed for sure. In any case, the poems were scattered around the Calamus cluster, which indicates that they were important for Whitman, but they were so jumbled, which further indicates that he had his reasons why he wanted to obscure the narrative behind the sequence. Without going further into the motives for this specific treatment of the poems, the fact remains that they were ‘hidden’ among the other Calamus poems for a long time – for nearly a century – until Fredson Bowers found a connection between the poems, while working n the Valentine Collection of Whitman’s manuscripts, now the property of the University of Virginia (then the property of Clifton Waller Barrett (Parker, Hershel) and reconstructed the sequence. He published his findings in Studies in Bibliography in 1953, and then in Whitman’s Manuscripts: Leaves of Grass (1860):A Parallel Text  in 1955. After that, the sequence was mainly neglected until 1990s.

“Hours continuing long” is, as I have already mentioned, the eight poem of the Live Oak, with Moss, which in 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass became Calamus nine. It is a bleak, dark poem which deals, among other things, with the aftermath of the love affair that ended badly.  The affair here mentioned, Alan Helms claims, was with one Fred Vaughn, a young man who lived with Whitman in early 1850s and their break up had a very strong influence on the poet.

Calamus 9 had a fairly strange destiny, even when compared with the already strange destinies of the other poems of the sequence. Firstly, it was not revised – the 1860 version of the poem that appeared in the Leaves is identical with the 1859 manuscript version. Whitman changed nothing for the purpose of publication, which is not case with most of the other poems of the sequence. On the other hand, he did not really need to, because the 1860 edition was the only one that contained the ”Hours continuing long”. After the third edition, Whitman decided to exclude the poem from all the subsequent editions, and the motives for such an act remained a mystery even today.

Even though the “Hours continuing long” have not been given the same kind of ‘publicity’ as some of the other poems of Whitman’s ,  I think it lends itself to interpretation, and I find it indicative of the linguistic, cultural and emotional issues that had a profound impact on Whitman’s poetics

The American Experience: Walt Whitman

Uncategorized 1 Comment »


Even though well in the 21st century, most of us are used to the good old-fashioned research; read and read and read. The high quality documentaries (both, production-wise and content-wise) like this one are a good reminder that, in the era of mass media, we have more access to the all sorts of data than ever before. The PBS documentary “The American Experience: Walt Whitman” is a great opportunity to access very easily a great deal of information concerning one of America’s best poets ever.

The documentary follows the life of a man who made so much difference not only to the nation he devoted himself to, but to the poetry in general. Through nine sections of this documentary we can follow the development from a sensitive, young Long Island boy to the magnificent and astonishing “the poet of the body and the poet of the soul “. This development has been presented as a process with a numerous factors which influenced it heavily, from the New York City with all its specificities and issues like slavery to the disasters like the Civil War. How influence of these, combined and intertwined, gave rise to an astonishing new philosophy on which the Leaves of Grass and created the “Good Gray Poet” is explained here in an easy and appealing way. The whole story throughout the documentary is backed up by a very powerful reading of Whitman’s poetry. The seas of information aside, these readings, in my opinion, are as valuable as they are moving. The reason is that they show that the poetry of Walt Whitman is basically composed to be read out loud. That Whitman had the idea of poetry as something that one not only enjoys in the privacy of his or her room (and heart) ,but shares by public reading is important information, because it brings us to the way he composed his poems. If we combine it with the information that he was equally concerned with how his poems looked printed on the page, it becomes clear that, while doing our projects, we must bear in mind that the language of the poems was chosen not only having the meaning in mind but also the “sound” and the “look” of it.

And finally, the documentaries like this are a good example, as I have already mentioned, that information today are available via many media, and that there is an abundance of material, well presented and “well packed”, waiting for us to use it.

Intimate Script and the New American Bible: “Calamus” and Making of the 1860 Leaves of Grass By Ed Folsom and Kenneth M. Price

Uncategorized No Comments »


This, fourth chapter of Folsom’s and Price’s article was particularly interesting to me, and I believe it will be more than helpful. It not only concentrates on the very edition and the very cluster we are interested in, but it also provides a great deal of information about the circumstances that (might have) influenced Whitman right about the time he was working on the 1860 edition of Leaves. Knowing the cultural situation and as many factors as we can about all the factors that lead to the publication of such poetry as the “Calamus” cluster or the “ Enfans d’Adam” cluster o the 1860 edition will help us understand better the texts themselves and the impact they have been having ever since.

To begin with,  Folsom and Price discussed the prominent people –  artists and radical thinkers that Whitman had met and with whom Whitman established, in some cases, lifelong friendships. These were writers, like Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott, or visual artists like Henry Kirke Brown, Elihu Vedder, Gabriel Harris, or women’s rights activists like Abby Price, Sarah Tyndale, Sara Payson Willis. All these people influenced his poetry one way or another, directly or indirectly.

Even though this cultural framework of Whitman’s  1860 collection is one of the main focal points of the chapter, Folsom and  Price deal with the poetry itself as well. They also address the theme of homoeroticism, emphasizing the difficulty Whitman must have experienced while trying to express something that did not even have a name in a language lacked the expressions whit which to express it. As the authors claim, at the time Whitman was writing the Live Oak, with Moss, there was no such a concept which would combine the spiritual love and a physical love between two men. The existing vocabulary (and the state of mind of the people) made a clear cut distinction between these two. Consequently, Whitman almost had to re-invent meanings of words and phrases to fit the emotions and experiences he felt the need to express.

Another very important issue that Folsom and Price deal with here is the ‘direction’ of poetry. Many consider the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass the most inward directed or the most intimate, the inward instead of outward turning at the very brink of the war, but the  authors proceed to make appoint that the poems of the 1860 edition have political significance as well and that Whitman is really, through the concepts of love and comradeship try to bring the divided nation together.

All in all, this article is a very interesting reading, apart from being highly informative. It can, if nothing else, provide some useful insight into the general situation in America and in Walt Whitman during the creation of the wonderful Leaves of Grass.

Commentary by Alan Helms & Hershel Parker

Uncategorized 1 Comment »


Here we have a sort of the duel (which is here a nice way to say a fight) of two professors who had a difference of opinions concerning one sequence of twelve poems that Whitman wrote in the period between 1856 – 1859 and which he entitled Live Oak, with Moss (or Live Oak with Moss). The sequence was never published, but the poems were revised, shuffled and dispersed among the Calamus poems and published in 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass. On this both, Helms and Parker agreed. But then starts the juicy part.

Since helms was the first of the two to deal with the Live Oak sequence (around 1992), his opinions were repudiated by Parker several years later. Parker pointed out some of the weak spots in Helms’s article and at some points, attacked rather fiercely Helms’s interpretation of the poems. In the light of these accusations, Alan Helms made a sort of a comment where he tried to explain himself and defend his position on the matter of the Live Oak with Moss sequence of poems. On the accusation that he chose the ‘wrong’ version of the poems he answered that he chose the version the poet himself found fit for printing and that the 1860 version of the twelve poems in question is no less valid that the ‘original’ version of the 1859 notebook. Then he goes on to enumerate all the mistakes Hershel Parker made concerning this and many other issues.

Professor Parker responded to this comment of Professor Helms by reaffirming his own attitude toward the Live Oak, with Moss and by making remarks about the orthography and punctuation of professor Helms. However, at the end of his reply to Helms, Parker notes something quite right and quite useful for us – that ‘study of “Live Oak, with Moss” and of the origins and revisions of “Calamus” (and “Children of Adam”) has hardly begun.’

In addition to this useful insight, there are a few more things that this duel can teach us; firstly that we need to be very meticulous while researching because we do not want to risk stating something that is vague, incomplete, ambiguous or, worst of all, wrong. Also, that we must be aware that our interpretation will depend on the source text – in case of Whitman it is not certain that two versions of the same poem will have completely the same meaning. One period can make all the difference in the world when it comes to Whitman’s poetry. Finally, the fact that his poetry leaves enough space for ever new readings should inspire us to be original and bald when writing our own projects.

The Real “Live Oak , with Moss”: Straight Talk about Whitman’s “Gay Manifesto”

Uncategorized No Comments »


Hershel Parker also deals with the twelve poems that constitute the Live Oak, with Moss sequence.  He identifies the time they originated – ‘within two years or so’ of the publication of 1856 edition of Leaves of Grass. In early 1859, according Parker, Whitman copied these twelve poems in a notebook under the title Live Oak, with Moss (the title is, unlike in Helms’s article, written with comma).  The poems never got published as the sequence, and Parker too, notes that Whitman shuffled, dispersed and revised the poems and included them in the 1860 edition of Leaves. In this article, Parker, just like Helms in his article, states Fredson Bowers as the person who was the first to realize that twelve, seemingly random poems from the Calamus cluster are really the sequence telling the story of a homosexual affair. However, Parker provides more information about the publication of these findings – Bowers published these in 1953 in the Studies in Bibliograph and in Whitman’s Manuscript:’Leaves of Grass’(1860): A Parallel Text in 1955.

Parker, then, brings up the fact that from 1953/55 until 1994 when he published the sequence in the Norton Anthology of American Literature and called it ‘what today would be termed “gay manifesto”’, the sequence was generally neglected. In addition to this, Parker provides some of the probable reasons for such a neglect of this literary and culturally important material.

Firstly, he states that Studies in Bibliography is ‘highly specialized scholarly journal’ which makes it a kind of elitist journal, with not so wide readership. Also, this implies that, since it is so specialized journal it was not available to many colleges and many teachers/students. However, apart from this unavailability of the material, Parker suggests that the subject matter of the poems, such as it is, might have been a factor which contributed to the neglecting of the Live Oak, with Moss. This especially applied to the teachers, since the homoeroticism is not something generally perceived as ‘classroom safe’ topic. Finally, he offers the possibility that critics and scholars remained silent for so long about these poems because they were never published in their original form, so they were treated  as if ‘they never had a tangible existence’.

The second part of Parker’s essay is dedicated to criticism of Alan Helms’s article Whitman’s Live Oak with Moss. He sees Helms’s article was ‘the first full attempt to read the Live Oak, with Moss’. Still, he finds many of Helms’s beliefs and many of the facts he presented erroneous and attacks Helms fiercely.  Firstly, he finds it is close to sacrilege that Helms chose to provide the 1860 versions of the poems in question while talking about the Live Oak, with Moss (he even thinks that writing the title without comma is a great flaw and at several instances, calls Helms’s article the ‘no-comma Live Oak’). The Live Oak, with Moss poems printed in 1860 edition of the Leaves , according to Parker, are revised and are not identical to the original poems of the sequence and thus cannot be analyzed as the Live Oak poems, but rather as the Calamus poems. In other words, he does not so much question Helms’s interpretation, as much as he is trying to point out that it is not the interpretation resulting from the analysis of the ‘real’ Live Oak  poems but revised, Calamus poems. At one point he goes so far as to bring up the possibility that Helms might not have even read the original sequence.

To emphasize this view of his, Parker then moves on to analyze every poem and, as awful as it sounds, point to mistakes Helms made because he used ‘wrong’ versions. Consequently, he does not accept ‘homophobic oppression’ as a pervading theme of the sequence but thinks that what these poems really show ‘Whitman’s accepting of his homosexuality and surviving a thwarted love affair’.

Parker’s conclusion is, then, that the two completely different reading of the Live Oak, with Moss (or Live Oak with Mos) are the result of reading two different sets of poems. In the end, he even claims that Helms’s reading is somehow didactically wrong? because it would discourage any gay or lesbian trying to come out.

All in all, Hershel Parker’s article introduces a completely different reading of these twelve poems and provides his arguments for his reading which is all in all important because it helps us understand that the existence of different interpretations of poems is possible. Even more so in the case of Whitman who revised his poems from edition to edition which made it possible for new interpretations to emerge,  as a result of these revisions.  Parker also emphasized one crucial thing in the process of reading Whitman’s poems and that is the choice of material. He came to one conclusion reading one version of the sequence, while Helms came to different conclusion reading another version of the same sequence of poems. Meaning, then, in case of Walt Whitman is not stable; it is fluid and susceptible to change and that is a good thing, because it means that there is still some place left for new and fresh interpretations.

Whitman’s Live Oak with Moss by Alan Helms- article review

Uncategorized 1 Comment »


In his article, Whitman’s Live Oak with Moss, Alan Helms discusses a sequence of twelve poems Whitman wrote ‘short time’ before 1859, when he copied them in a notebook under the title Live Oak with Moss. The sequence was first discovered, as Helms says, ‘almost forty years ago’ by Fredson Bowers who published it in Studies in Bibliography, and later in Whitman’s Manuscripts: Leaves of Grass (1860). The Live Oak with Moss sequence tells the story about love affair with a man, and in Helms opinion, testifies of the painful process of coming out. Helms goes even further to identify the lover in the poems as Fred Vaughan, a young man who lived with Whitman in late 1850s, but fails to produce any kind of evidence to support his speculation.

Since Bowers ‘findings’ were published the sequence was mainly neglected by both, scholars and teachers and Helms believes that this was mostly done due to the subject matter of the poems, that is homosexual affair. Also, the fact that these poems as a sequence were never published by Whitman himself, led Helms into introducing the theme of ‘homophobic oppression’ as the main theme of the entire sequence. That Whitman later shuffled and dispersed the poems from the Live Oak with Moss among the poems of the Calamus cluster, and published them all together in the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass served as a proof to support his idea that Whitman was aware of cultural taboos and that he was, in a way ashamed of himself. Author further claims that Whitman’s awareness of the dangers lurking those like him in that homophobic society, even managed to silence him in a way, since he never published the sequence on its own, nor  did he ever returned to the topic after the third edition of the Leaves.

Good portion of Helms’s article was devoted to the analysis of the actual poems of this sequence which he identified as poems from the Calamus cluster in the following order:  14, 20, 11, 23, 8, 32, 10, 9, 34, 43, 36 and 42 and which he provided at the end of his article in the mentioned order. Then he identified a kind of key words, in his opinion, of the entire sequence: confusion, pain and fear. He continued with the analysis of every poem, mostly in terms of ‘transgression – retreat’ revealing Whitman as an oppressed victim, ashamed and silenced.

However, in addition to the content, Helms addresses Whitman’s style in Live Oak with Moss poems. Since the poems are written in a kind of sonnet form, that Helms compares to Shakespear, he sees it as a kind of of compensation; the more Whitman transgressed the more he turned to ‘conventionally approved forms’ and that had a negative impact on Whitman’s style.  Moreover, this deterioration of style, Helms disucsses, could be the result of the subject matter (homosexual love), and the difficulties Whitman might have experienced trying to come up with an appropriate vocabulary. According to Helms, the existing vocabulary did not allow Whitman to express himself without feeling shame.

The article end in the repeated idea of ‘homosexual oppression’ and the bleak and gloomy atmosphere of the Live Oak with Moss sequence is re-established.

Now, even though Helms’s critique of the sequence in question has its downsides, there are some aspects of it that can be very useful for us. Even though I am not so receptive of such a negative undercurrent in these poems, the confusion and fear and pain are, without any doubt, present in some of the poems and in our analyses it will serve us well to be aware of the inner conflicts of the author and consequent pain he feels. Also, the fact that Whitman obviously had his share of doubts about the publication of the  Live Oak with Moss sequence leaves us a lot of room for new, bold (why not) interpretations concerning the state of the I in these poems. Still, the thing I believe will probably be the most helpful is Helms’s idea about (in)appropriacy of the language that was available to Whitman for the images and experiences he wanted to describe. In other words, if we consider not only what is said, but also what is not said and what was made ambiguous for some reasons, new, fresh interpretations just might start pouring out.


Uncategorized 1 Comment »

Calamus 1


IN paths untrodden, 

In the growth by margins of pond-waters, 

Escaped from the life that exhibits itself, 

From all the standards hitherto published—from

         the pleasures, profits, conformities,

(Calamus, 1860)




Here, of all words I have highlighted one that is by no means unusual or unknown to me, and it was completely in its place to me when I first read the poem. Indeed, the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English provides the following definition of the word margin:

Margin – technical or literary – the edge of something, especially an area of land or water

This definition of the word margin fits the context of the poem perfectly and gives no reason to ponder over the possibility of some deeper, hidden meaning of the word. Still, something was a bit awkward about that particular choice of words that made me push my way a little deeper in the word itself. Therefore, I wondered, apart from the very clear and appropriate denotation of the word in question, which connotation of the same word can be applied to the same context to produce just as legitimate interpretation, and several ideas emerged.

Firstly, the word margin can have a very strong negative connotation as in social marginalization, and if read this way, the poem acquires a new level of reading which made sense, especially if we consider that the passage is from the Calamus 1, the first (introductory?) poem of the Calamus cluster, which was more than radical at the time it was published in 1860. Given that some poems of the Calamus are somewhat radical even today, 150 years later, it is justified to claim that Whitman himself was well aware that his poetry will be marginalized, that it will not be accepted nor understood for generations to come. Indeed, later throughout the Calamus poems, there exist several instances in which Whitman “speaks” of and to generations to come, and puts his faith in them (us?) to really read his poetry with much less prejudice and much more open-mindedness. I have tried to imagine what was it like for someone to write the poetry such as the Leaves of Grass in the mid nineteenth century, and I could not find a way how that someone could not be marginalized, how they could be properly understood by more than a dozen equally talented and equally misunderstood people.

Furthermore, thinking about this negative idea of margin, one another possibility came to my mind which is related with the previously discussed interpretation of the word. One of the basic meanings of the word margin is the blank space on one side of the paper where one can take notes. Now, if we expand and deepen this definition to fit the entire body of works of Walt Whitman, we might claim that the use of the word margin here indicates Whitman’s realization that when a new kind of poetry is to be born, and especially if it springs from a philosophical and moral system radically different from the existing one, it has no other place available to be written on than on margins of literature. And only after the supporting social and cultural systems change, the new poetry will be allowed to shift from margins to a more central position in literature. So could it be that Whitman was aware that his poetry will inevitably have to spend its share of time on the margin, but still carried on knowing that one day, just as inevitably, it will be appreciated by the multitudes?

These two interpretations of the word margin might be my reading in into the poem, but I still would like to provide one other proof of my readings of the poem. Namely, one other word used in the poem supports my readings – the word standards. These can be standards of what is considered good or appropriate by a society, supporting my first interpretation, but can also stand as the centre, as opposed to the margin, which is then consistent with my second interpretation. Then again, I could be completely wrong.



Song of Myself

Uncategorized 4 Comments »


What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?
They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceased the moment life appeared.
All goes onward and outward . . . . and nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.
Has any one supposed it lucky to be born?
I hasten to inform him or her it is just as lucky to die, and I know it.
I pass death with the dying, and birth with the new-washed babe . . . . and am not
contained between my hat and boots,
And peruse manifold objects, no two alike, and every one good,
The earth good, and the stars good, and their adjuncts all good.
I am not an earth nor an adjunct of an earth,
I am the mate and companion of people, all just as immortal and fathomless as

They do not know how immortal, but I know.

Now, I feel the need to explain why I have chosen this particular passage from the Song of Myself. First, and the foremost, I felt it close to my own understanding of the world. I could not but admire the tranquility with which he speaks of death as of something, not only perfectly normal, but also beautiful. It made me wonder what would my life be like if I too were so free from fear and so courageous to “stare directly into the sun”. Maybe the only way to live as fully as possible is to rid oneself of the fear of the eventual end. An that is what Whitman says in these lines – if you want to celebrate life, first you must accept death, not as the end, but as an inevitable change.

Wordpress Themes by Natty WP.
Images by koop viagra desEXign.
Skip to toolbar