Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
"Fast Anchor'd Eternal O Love!" (1860)
Author:
Helms, Alan
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Fredson Bowers speculates that this minor, six-line lyric was probably composed sometime between June or July 1857 and the middle of 1858. It first appeared as "Calamus" 38 in the 1860 edition of Leaves and was retained in all subsequent editions.

The poem is constructed around a simple distinction between the speaker's love of women and men. The love of women is seen as "Fast-anchor'd" ("Primeval" in 1860) and "resistless," apparently in the sense that it is physical and biological, whereas the love of men is "Ethereal" and "disembodied." Whitman is indebted here to Plato's Symposium for this classical distinction between physical and spiritual love, but as elsewhere in his poetry the idea seems more borrowed than absorbed, an impression conveyed by the fact that Whitman also calls the sexual love of women "eternal" and the spiritual love of men "the last athletic reality." A somewhat confused effort, the poem is an early example of Whitman's tendency toward abstraction. In "Calamus," it may have served Whitman as a way to minimize or deflect criticism for the obvious homoerotic content of the sequence.

Bibliography

Martin, Robert K. The Homosexual Tradition in American Poetry. Austin: U of Texas P, 1979.

Whitman, Walt. Whitman's Manuscripts: "Leaves of Grass" (1860). Ed. Fredson Bowers. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1955.


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