Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
"My Boys and Girls" (1844)
Author:
McGuire, Patrick
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

While this sketch first appeared in The Rover, 20 April 1844, biographers suppose that it was written as early as 1835. For publication and biographical comments, see Thomas Brasher's edition of The Early Poems and the Fiction.

This sketch is viewed as a small exercise in autobiography. It is a listing in paragraphs of children that the bachelor-speaker looks upon as his own. He describes the children and their fun, but he also laments their growth into the world of sin and pain. David Reynolds reads the sketch as Whitman's attempt to keep himself and his siblings frozen in childhood.

There is some humorous play in the sketch. Three children, like Whitman's brothers, have the names of United States presidents. "Strange paradox!" (Whitman 248)—Andrew Jackson is considerably older than Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Other children are referred to by their initials, as if to preserve a secret. Other humor is derived from the idea of a bachelor being a father.

In a notable paragraph, there is some stylistic and thematic foreshadowing of Whitman's later work. Specifically, Whitman lists the world's ills, using the parallelism of much of his later poetry. Also, the description of a child's burial includes the overwhelming scent of apple blossoms, which gives "a deadlier sickness in our souls" (249) and thereby anticipates "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" (1865). Kaplan ties this paragraph as well to the homoeroticism of "Calamus." Callow sees an anticipation of "There was a Child Went Forth" (1855) in the entire sketch.

Bibliography

Allen, Gay Wilson. The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman. 1955. Rev. ed. 1967. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985.

Callow, Philip. From Noon to Starry Night: A Life of Walt Whitman. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1992.

Kaplan, Justin. Walt Whitman: A Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1980.

Reynolds, David S. Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography. New York: Knopf, 1995.

Whitman, Walt. The Early Poems and the Fiction. Ed. Thomas L. Brasher. New York: New York UP, 1963.


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