Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
"I Dream'd in a Dream" (1860)
Author:
Knapp, Ronald W.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

This is one of the poems in the "Calamus" cluster which was written, as Whitman noted in the first poem in the collection, "to celebrate the need of comrades." The poems in the "Calamus" collection were written to celebrate the love of man for man—"Adhesiveness"—as the poems in the "Children of Adam" cluster were written to celebrate the love of man for woman—"Amativeness." The "Calamus" poems move from the intensely personal and individual to the social and, ultimately, to the universal.

"I Dream'd in a Dream" is an example of the universal nature of the "Calamus" ideal. Whitman felt that men must love other men with the same passion as that with which they love women, writes Henry Seidel Canby in Walt Whitman: An American, or there can be "no comradeship strong enough to hold together an ideal democracy" (201). Richard Chase, in Walt Whitman Reconsidered, adds that the "Calamus" poems, "by some mysterious yet sublime seductions," enable the reader to see, beyond death, what Whitman calls the "city of Friends" (119). David Kuebrich, in Minor Prophecy, links the "Calamus" theme in "I Dream'd" to Christian teachings about "The Brotherhood of Man" and relates this to the message of contemporary preachers like Lyman Beecher. Gay Wilson Allen, in The Solitary Singer, believes that Whitman was able to "transcend his personal suffering," which was generated by the poet's "unsatisfied homoerotic yearnings," by generalizing them in a dream of "'a city where all the men were like brothers'" (225).

The world envisioned in "I Dream'd" is one in which "Robust love" between men would bring an end to war and lead to a just and democratic social order.

Bibliography

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

Canby, Henry Seidel. Walt Whitman: An American. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1943.

Cavitch, David. My Soul and I: The Inner Life of Walt Whitman. Boston: Beacon, 1985.

Chase, Richard. Walt Whitman Reconsidered. New York: William Sloane Associates, 1955.

Kuebrich, David. Minor Prophecy: Walt Whitman's New American Religion. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1989.


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