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

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“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

One Response to “The development of the ”Hours continuing long” a.k.a. Calamus 9”

  1. Karen Karbiener Says:
    Avatar of Karen Karbiener

    –interesting that the poem was not revised, Sanja. I wonder if that adds to the theory that this was a poem truly written ‘from the heart’ (as you know, many critics believe that is the reason why the poem was excluded from later editions). It’s unusual for Walt not to pencil in at least a correction or two… was he in a rush? Writing on the fly? I think it might be worthwhile to look at the way the manuscript was loving taped together, too– seems that he wrote spontaneously, as the poem was much longer than the original paper he selected. Thanks for the inspiration! Karen.

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