Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
"Ages and Ages Returning at Intervals" (1860)
Author:
Klawitter, George
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

"Ages and Ages Returning at Intervals" first appears in the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass, where it is twelfth among the cluster of "Enfans d'Adam." Its position, however, in the final edition (1881) is eighth. Minor variants for the various editions, mostly of punctuation marks, are noted in the Variorum (2:362-363). In his emendations of the 1860 edition, Whitman added a new opening line, "With the old, the potent original loins," words he lifted and canceled from line 3 of the poem. In a second review, he restored line 3 to its earlier reading, except for the word "original." However, the poem appeared in subsequent editions with the word restored to line 3 and the new first line of the poem canceled.

Aspiz feels that the poem blends lust and transcendence in the Adamic narrator furthering the Whitmanesque notion that sexuality is basically spiritual, a notion that Allen also finds in the poem, in the form of Whitman's belief that the soul identifies itself through sex. Miller sees in the poem an attempt to show that Adam's innocence did not die in Eden but rather returns from time to time, significantly here in the "Children of Adam" cluster.

Bibliography

Allen, Gay Wilson. Walt Whitman Handbook. 1946. New York: Hendricks House, 1962.

Aspiz, Harold. "Sexuality and the Language of Transcendence." Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 5.2 (1987): 1–7.

Killingsworth, M. Jimmie. Whitman's Poetry of the Body: Sexuality, Politics, and the Text. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1989.

Miller, James E., Jr. A Critical Guide to Leaves of "Grass." Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1957.

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass: A Textual Variorum of the Printed Poems. Ed. Sculley Bradley, Harold W. Blodgett, Arthur Golden, and William White. 3 vols. New York: New York UP, 1980.

____. Walt Whitman's Blue Book. Ed. Arthur Golden. 2 vols. New York: New York Public Library, 1968.


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