Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
"Here the Frailest Leaves of Me" (1860)
Author:
Sienkiewicz, Conrad M.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

"Here the Frailest Leaves of Me" was first published in the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass. It was the forty-fourth of forty-five numbered poems in the "Calamus" cluster. When it was first published, it began with the line "Here my last words, and the most baffling." This line was dropped in 1871, and the poem remained that way in later editions.

Whitman commonly referred to his poems as leaves, and so in this poem, these leaves are his "Calamus" poems. They are his "frailest . . . and yet my strongest lasting." The "Calamus" poems were an exercise in self-definition, according to Robert K. Martin, and they were open expressions of Whitman's love for other men. Such expressions were dangerous in Whitman's day. These poems were vulnerable, as they could be attacked by hostile readers. As Alan Helms notes, "Frailest" reflected Whitman's cautiousness due to his fear of exposure. These poems were strong, however, because they were the honest songs of a bold and confident singer. For over one hundred years, these poems have survived as positive examples of homosexual desire.

Whitman admits in this poem, "I shade and hide my thoughts . . . yet they expose me." While Whitman does not reveal his secret in this poem, he does reveal the existence of a secret. By saying that he is hiding something, he is asking the reader to look for it. This search, therefore, is not intrusive but is welcomed by the poet.

Bibliography

Cady, Joseph. "Not Happy in the Capitol: Homosexuality and the 'Calamus' Poems." American Studies 19.2 (1978): 5–22.

Helms, Alan. "'Hints . . . Faint Clews and Indirections': Whitman's Homosexual Disguises." Walt Whitman: Here and Now. Ed. Joann P. Krieg. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1985. 61–67.

Killingsworth, M. Jimmie. "Sentimentality and Homosexuality in Whitman's 'Calamus.'" ESQ 29 (1983): 144–153.

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

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass: Comprehensive Reader's Edition. Ed. Harold W. Blodgett and Sculley Bradley. New York: New York UP, 1965.


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