Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
"Love of Eris: A Spirit Record, The" (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.

"The Love of Eris: A Spirit Record" first appeared in Columbian Magazine, March 1844, under the title "Eris: A Spirit Record." It was reprinted with the current title and other slight revisions in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 18 August 1846. For publication history and revisions, see Brasher's edition of The Early Poems and the Fiction.

The story is slight. A guardian angel, Dai, falls in love with his charge, Eris. She is betrothed. When the angel reveals himself to Eris, she dies. For being false to his mission, the angel is blinded and made to wander through heaven, calling out the name of his beloved. Eris's fiancé, meanwhile, languishes and longs for death.

The story contains an avowal of belief in angels and invisible spirits, but the moral at the end implicitly establishes a priority about such things. "The pure love of two human beings is a sacred thing, which the immortal themselves must dare not to cross" (Whitman 247).

Justin Kaplan, placing this story in line with those about sons and fathers, notes that Eris, spelled backwards, is "sire." Gay Wilson Allen notes that this story is in the manner of Edgar Allan Poe, but further sees the cosmic loneliness of Eris as a foreshadowing of elements in lines from Whitman's hospital notebook (1862–1863) which are the germ of the 1868 poem "A Noiseless Patient Spider."

Bibliography

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

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

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


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