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

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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.

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