Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
"Not Heat Flames Up and Consumes" (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 first as "Calamus" number 14 in the 1860 edition of Leaves, "Not Heat Flames Up and Consumes" took its present title in 1867. It was originally the first in a series of twelve poems entitled "Live Oak with Moss," which tells of Whitman's unhappy love affair with a man, possibly Fred Vaughan. Copied into a little notebook in the spring of 1859, the series was later called by Whitman "a Cluster of Poems, Sonnets expressing the thoughts, pictures, aspirations . . . fit to be perused during the days of the approach of Death" (qtd. in Helms 186). All twelve poems of the sequence were included among the forty-five poems of the 1860 "Calamus," but reordered so as to disguise the story, which Alan Helms regards as the only sustained treatment of homosexual love in all of Whitman's poetry.

"Not Heat Flames Up" remained in all subsequent editions of Leaves, escaping the fate of two other similarly revealing "Calamus" poems—["Long I Thought That Knowledge Alone Would Suffice"] and ["Hours Continuing Long"]—which were taken from the sequence and dropped after 1860. Whitman never published the sequence itself.

In "Not Heat Flames Up" the desire of the poet for "his love whom I love" is compared to various natural phenomena such as seawaves, the summer air, the tide, and the "high rain-emitting clouds." The most powerful of the images is the initial one ("Not heat flames up and consumes"), repeated in the fifth line—the flames likely connoting the danger involved in the relationship.

Bibliography

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.

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


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