Selected Criticism

"Not Heaving from my Ribb'd Breast Only" (1860)
Field, Jack
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

This poem—number 6 in the "Calamus" sequence—was part of the first appearance of the "Calamus" cluster in the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass. Based on the first line, the title became official in the 1867 edition. "Not Heaving" was written after Whitman mailed the 1860 manuscript to the Rome brothers for typesetting in 1859, and some time before his arrival in Boston in March 1860 to oversee the printing by Thayer and Eldridge.

The poem's importance to Whitman may be judged by its placement in the group, and the fact that both the poem and its position remained unchanged in all succeeding editions. "Not Heaving" was not, however, one of the original twelve poems from the proposed "Live Oak with Moss" grouping, which was incorporated into "Calamus."

"Not Heaving" is related to "Calamus" numbers 13, 15, 26, and the last stanza of 3 (as numbered in the final edition) in the use of "not" or "nor" at the beginning of lines. In its frequency this rhetorical technique is unique to "Calamus" and reflects the emotional anguish which permeates the poems.

"Adhesiveness," which the poet addresses in "Not Heaving" as the "pulse of my life," is a term from phrenology, a popular pseudoscience in the mid-1800s. Defined as "male friendship," adhesiveness is believed to have been Whitman's code word for homosexual relationships.

Although not considered an important poem, "Not Heaving" is an integral part of "Calamus," a section of Leaves which attracts growing critical interest, especially among gay scholars.


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

Schwiebert, John E. The Frailest Leaves: Whitman's Poetic Technique and Style in the Short Poem. New York: Lang, 1992.

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass: Comprehensive Reader's Edition. Ed. Harold W. Blodgett and Sculley Bradley. New York: New York UP, 1965.

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


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