Selected Criticism

"Trickle Drops" (1860)
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 poem was originally published, without its present opening line, as number 15 in the "Calamus" cluster of the 1860 Leaves of Grass. In 1867 and 1871 the initial line—"Trickle, drops!"—was added; this was emended to the present line in 1881. Otherwise, its text remained the same in all succeeding editions, except for minor alterations in punctuation and capitalization. It took "Trickle Drops" as its title from 1867 onward; in manuscript the poem was called "Confession Drops."

"Trickle Drops" presents the curious image of the poet wounding himself in the face and chest so that his blood may drip out onto the pages of his book, staining his poems. Unlike most of the "Calamus" poems, "Trickle Drops" does not deal directly with male same-sex love. The poem's only intimation of a connection to homosexuality is its sixth line, which speaks of concealment and confession, motifs often signifying repressed homoerotic desire in Leaves of Grass.

Both M. Jimmie Killingsworth and Kerry Larson correlate the freeing of the drops of blood with masturbation, an act commonly associated with homosexual behavior in Whitman's day. Indeed, the drops are said to be "ashamed," reflecting the social stigma against masturbation. Killingsworth reads the drops of blood as poems that Whitman "extracts" from himself, much as "bunches" of semen are figured as poems, and ejaculation as poetic expression, in "Spontaneous Me!" (1856). By contrast, Larson interprets the "bloody drops" as the failure of poetry to provide aesthetic restitution for sublimated (homo)sexual desire: the violent discharge of pent-up sexual urges precludes the possibility of liberating literary representation of those urges.

The violence of the poet's self-wounding recalls other instances of sadomasochistic fantasy in Leaves of Grass, such as the plunging of the tongue to the "bare-stript heart" in section 5 of "Song of Myself" (1855) and the erotic strangulation induced in the poet by grand opera in "Song of Myself," section 26. Michael Moon sees "Trickle Drops" as the literalization of the fantasy of self-wounding implicit in the lexical conversion of "leaves" of grass into knife-like "blades" in "Scented Herbage of My Breast" (1860). Killingsworth likewise traces the poet's transformation of himself from Osiris in "Scented Herbage" to crucified Christ figure in "Trickle Drops," whose death permits the transcendence of self which is the essence of love.


Killingsworth, M. Jimmie. Whitman's Poetry of the Body: Sexuality, Politics, and the Text. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1989.

Larson, Kerry C. Whitman's Drama of Consensus. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1988.

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.

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


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.