Selected Criticism

"We Two, How Long We were Fool'd" (1860)
Klawitter, George
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

"We Two, How Long We were Fool'd" first appeared as poem number 7 in the cluster "Enfans d'Adam." It assumed its present title in the 1867 edition. After the 1860 edition, two lines were dropped from the poem. Before the present line 1 there appeared, "You and I—what the earth is, we are," and the following after line 10: "We are what the flowing wet of the Tennessee is—we are two peaks of the Blue Mountains, rising up in Virginia." Whitman apparently changed his mind several times as he worked on revisions of the 1860 edition of this poem. From an analysis of Whitman's copy, Golden concludes that the poet first transposed lines 1 and 2, by writing "We two—how long we were fool'd" but then rejected the printed line "You and I—what the earth is, we are" altogether. Whitman may have considered using printed line 3 as an opener but then decided to stay with the opening line (and title) as we have them today. For the new line 2, Whitman struck the word "delicious" and switched the position of "swiftly" and "we." Although it is clear from Whitman's Blue Book that he moved the words "we are as two comets" one line higher (to follow "we soar above and look down"), the change does not appear in editions subsequent to the Blue Book, nor do Whitman's manipulations with line breaks in the Blue Book for lines 14 and 15.

Killingsworth sees in this poem a significant shift in Whitman's attitude on sexual acceptance. Whereas in 1855 Whitman wanted men and women to accept their own bodies so that they might be vehicles for contact with others, in a "Children of Adam" poem like "We Two, How Long We were Fool'd," Whitman turns inward and stresses the need for his unwilling female readers to accept his male body and his poem as given, even though it is separate from his readers' desires. Although E.H. Miller understands the two to be a modern Adam and Eve in search of a new spirit, he finds the poem actually celebrates male-male attraction, and Allen notes that the theme of the poem stresses that the pair were gulled by abstinence. In a sequence of poems that stresses elemental imagery with water and earth predominating over air and fire, the poem "We Two" mixes images of nature.


Allen, Gay Wilson. Walt Whitman Handbook. 1946. New York: Hendricks House, 1962.

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

Miller, Edwin Haviland. Walt Whitman's Poetry: A Psychological Journey. New York: New York UP, 1969.

Stephens, Rosemary. "Elemental Imagery in 'Children of Adam.'" Walt Whitman Review 14 (1968): 26–28.

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass: A Textual Variorum of the Printed Poems. Ed. Sculley Bradley, Harold W. Blodgett, Arthur Golden, and William White. 3 vols. New York: New York UP, 1980.

____. Walt Whitman's Blue Book. Ed. Arthur Golden. 2 vols. New York: New York Public Library, 1968.


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

Support the Archive | About the Archive

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