Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
"Of Him I Love Day and Night" (1860)
Author:
Losey, Jay
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

A celebration and condemnation of same-sex love, this poem charts Whitman's response to the homophobia of his day. The speaker reveals his pain and self-divided nature; he composes an elegy for his dream lover and for the democratic country that has lost its will to love freely. Whitman removed this poem from the "Calamus" section (1860 Leaves) and eventually fixed its place in "Whispers of Heavenly Death" (1871 Leaves).

The critical responses focus on politics and sexuality. Betsy Erkkila gives the most persuasive reading, indicating how the first half of the poem chronicles the poet's despair over his lover's death, the second his despair over the nation's death. She stresses the interweaving of personal and political motifs both in this poem and other "Calamus" poems. James Miller also stresses the function of death, arguing that the numerous references to burial sites suggest a commonality between the dead and the living. Robert Martin emphasizes the failure of men to love. Moreover, the affirmation of cremation reveals a shift in Whitman's values; as a memento mori, the poem concentrates on living intensely and denies any form of Christian rebirth. For Michael Moon, the poem's emphasis on spaces and spacing suggests a movement from contained (the tomb) to uncontained (America). Moon stresses Whitman's despair, as suggested by the speaker's vision of a necropolis. Read as "Calamus" number 17, the poem anticipates the Civil War and prophetically announces that the wide open spaces of America will become burial places.

Whitman's blending of politics and sexuality demonstrates that they are inseparable from his poetic vision. He intensifies his grief over losing someone he loves and dramatically conveys to readers that the contained grief in the poem's beginning becomes uncontained by the poem's end.

Bibliography

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

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

Miller, James E., Jr. A Critical Guide to "Leaves of Grass." Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1957.

Moon, Michael. Disseminating Whitman: Revision and Corporeality in "Leaves of Grass." Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1991.


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