Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
"We Two Boys Together Clinging" (1860)
Author:
Smeller, Carl
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

This nine-line poem was originally published as number 26 in the "Calamus" cluster of the 1860 Leaves of Grass. Its original eighth line was dropped in 1867; otherwise, its text remained the same in all succeeding editions, except for minor alterations in punctuation. The poem's first line was used as its title from 1867 onward. However, in the poem's earliest manuscript version, entitled "Razzia," the first two lines are not present and the pronouns are all first person singular. Thus between manuscript and publication Whitman converted a poem of singular self-assertion into a representation of exclusive love between two young men.

Unlike the mere joy in the lover's presence extolled in other "Calamus" poems such as "A Glimpse" (1860) or "When I Heard at the Close of the Day" (1860), the affection between the two boys is enacted through shared physical activities. Harold Aspiz notes that the boys, like other idealized male figures in Whitman's poems, drink only water, reflecting Whitman's interest in hydrotherapy and bodily health. Some of the boys' activities—"thieving, threatening, . . . priests alarming, . . . statutes mocking"—are moderately antisocial, suggesting the lawless Bowery toughs with whom Whitman liked to associate and whose pose he adopted in the frontispiece to the 1855 Leaves of Grass. The boys' youth and activeness also recalls the wrestling apprentices in "I Sing the Body Electric" (1855), the kind of young white workingmen who serve as the primary objects of erotic attraction for the poet throughout Leaves of Grass and whom he addresses as the republic's best political hope in his lecture/essay "The Eighteenth Presidency!" (1856).

Michael Moon notes that, despite the idealized glow cast on the two boys, such dyadic pairing in this and some other "Calamus" poems is exceptional in Leaves of Grass. Most same-sex interactions in Whitman's poetry involve the poet with an indeterminable number of male others, such as the journeying companions in "Song of the Open Road" (1856) or the "gay gang of blackguards" in section 1 of "The Sleepers" (1855).

Bibliography

Aspiz, Harold. Walt Whitman and the Body Beautiful. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1980.

Fone, Byrne R.S. Masculine Landscapes: Walt Whitman and the Homoerotic Text. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1992.

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

Whitman, Walt. Complete Poetry and Collected Prose. Ed. Justin Kaplan. New York: Library of America, 1982.

____. Leaves of Grass: Facsimile Edition of the 1860 Text. Ed. Roy Harvey Pearce. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell UP, 1961.

____. Walt Whitman's Manuscripts: "Leaves of Grass" (1860). Ed. Fredson Bowers. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1955.


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