Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
["Hours Continuing Long"] (1860)
Author:
Raleigh, Richard
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Appearing only in the 1860 Leaves as "Calamus" number 9, ["Hours Continuing Long"] was originally the eighth in a series of twelve poems entitled "Live Oak with Moss" that Whitman copied into a small notebook in the spring of 1859. Whitman later referred to the series as "a Cluster of Sonnets" (qtd. in Helms 186). Though Whitman never published the series itself, all twelve of the poems of the series were reordered and included among the forty-five poems of the 1860 "Calamus."

Rarely does Whitman make it so clear that the object of his love is another man, or share his vulnerability and sense of abandonment so candidly, as in "Hours Continuing." Desperate because he saw the one he loved content without him, Whitman withdraws to isolated spots by day, and—unable to sleep at night—stifles plaintive cries while "speeding swiftly the country roads."

At one point he cries out "I am ashamed—but it is useless—I am what I am." Seeing echoes of Shakespeare's Sonnet 121 ("I am that I am") in the poem, Alan Helms nevertheless notes that Shakespeare's poem is affirmative and defiant, while Whitman's is defeatist, a casualty of homophobic oppression.

If the shame that Whitman spoke of was a result of the forbidden nature of his love, why was the similarly explicit companion poem "When I Heard at the Close of the Day" so joyful? Perhaps the shame sprang from the simple realization that another human being had such power to hurt him in love. In any case Whitman abandoned "Hours Continuing," along with two other "Calamus" poems, after the 1860 Leaves, no doubt as part of an effort to make Leaves more upbeat and less clearly homoerotic, and thus more acceptable to the general public.

Bibliography

Allen, Gay Wilson, and Charles T. Davis. Walt Whitman's Poems. New York: New York UP, 1955.

Erkkila, Betsy. Whitman the Political Poet. New York: Oxford UP, 1989.

Helms, Alan. "Whitman's 'Live Oak with Moss.'" The Continuing Presence of Walt Whitman. Ed. Robert K. Martin. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1992. 185–205.

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


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