Why did several poems written by Walt Whitman have homosexual themes if he was not gay?

 

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Most scholars have debated over the years about Walt Whitman sexual orientation calling him the great gay free verse writer of all time. It said has over and over that Walt Whitman in many of his poems that he had wrote were about his male lovers in which his poems indicated a timeless romantic relationship with men throughout his career.  Due to his controversial sexuality in a great number of his poems he is often believed to have been gay, based on interpretation of his poetry.

According to the author Alan Helms how wrote an article called “Whitman’s “Live Oak with Moss” stated the fowling information: Almost forty years ago, while working on Whitman’s manuscripts for the third edition of Leaves of Grass, Fredson Bowers discovered that twelve of the poems had originally formed a sequence entitled “Live Oak with Moss,” which tells the story of Whitman’s unhappy love affair with a man. The author Helms declared that Walt Whitman “in his past works of poetry have include the topic of same sex involvement. According to Alan Helms, “Live Oak with Moss”, is indeed a story about Walt Whitman’s love affair with a man who he is very fond of, but yet his lover ends up abandoning him. However, critics have not taken upon themselves to explore this documentation further.

Furthermore, the author Helms noted that throughout Whitman’s 45 poems which include “Live Oak”   are written  in a manner that is suggestive to the fact that he includes a great deal of poems based on his sexuality.

Throughout his poetry, Whitman wrote about his love affairs, heartbreak and his experience with men. It has also been noted throughout history that Oscar Wilder’s famous recollection of Walt Whitman was when Walt kissed him; he stated: “The kiss of Walt Whitman is still on my lips.”According to the author Rictor Norton in 1925 it had been discovered that the original hand-written manuscript of the poem called “Once I Pass’d Through A Populous City” in which Whitman had reversed the sex of the man to a woman in order for it to look presentable to the public. The original poem stated the following:

Once I Pass’d Through A Populous City

Once I pass’d through a populous city imprinting my brain
for future use with its shows, architecture, customs,

tradition,

Yet now of all that city I remember only a man I casually

met there who detained me for love of me,

Day by day and night by night we were together — all else

has long been forgotten by me,

I remember I saw only that man who passionately clung to

me,

Again we wander, we love, we separate again,

Again he holds me by the hand, I must not go,

see him close beside me with silent lips sad and

tremulous.

The author Norton stated that the original poem perhaps is Whitman first homosexual experience in which he did not fully understand the implications of him being with a man. Needless to say, the writer goes on to give an account of Whitman coming out confessional poem in which Walt Whitman stated:

I share the midnight orgies of young men . . .
I pick out some low person for my dearest friend,
He shal be lawless, rude, illiterate, he shall be condemned by others for deeds done,
I will play a part no longer, why should I exile myself from my companions?

Furthermore the writer Rictor Norton noted that Whitman also wrote notebooks about his sexual encounters with men from different ages and background the notebook listed stated the following information:

Whitman’s notebooks of this period are filled with at least 150 such entries and  descriptions of bus drivers, ferry-boat men, and other “rude, illiterate” men that he met — picked up is really the only accurate word for it — in the streets of Manhattan, and “slept with,” often keeping notes of their home addresses. Excerpts from his Notebooks have been collected in Charley Shively’s Calamus Lovers: Walt Whitman’s Working Class Camerados (Gay Sunshine Press, 1987):

  • Peter — large, strong-boned young fellow, driver. . . . I liked his refreshing wickedness, as it would be called by the orthodox.
  • George Fitch — Yankee boy — Driver . . . Good looking, tall, curly haired, black-eyed fellow
  • Saturday night Mike Ellis — wandering at the corner of Lexington av. & 32d st. — took him home to 150 37th street, — 4th story back room — bitter cold night
  • Wm Culver, boy in bath, aged 18
  • Dan’l Spencer . . . somewhat feminine . . . slept with me Sept 3d
  • Theodore M Carr — came to the house with me
  • James Sloan (night of Sept 18 ’62) 23rd year of age — plain homely, American
  • John McNelly night Oct 7 young man, drunk, walk’d up Fulton& High st. home
  • David Wilson — night of Oct. 11 ’62, walking up from Middagh — slept with me
  • Horace Ostrander Oct. 22 ’62 — about 28 yr’s of age — slept with him Dec 4th ’62
  • October 9, 1863, Jerry Taylor, (NJ.) of 2d dist reg’t slept with me last night weather soft, cool enough, warm enough, heavenly.

The author Rictor Norton also make references to the fact that Walt Whitman in 1866 met Peter Doyle, a nineteen year old bus conductor in Washington D.C. Peter Doyle stated the following words “We were familiar at once — I put my hand on his knee — we understood.” It was this statement that has critics arguing over what this statement really meant. In addition to this statement, Norton noted that Doyle was also quoted as saying:

I never knew a case of Walt’s being bothered up by a woman. In fact, he had nothing special to do with any woman except Mrs. O’Connor and Mrs. Burroughs [his landlady and housekeeper]. His disposition was different. Woman in that sense never came into his head. Walt was too clean; he hated anything which was not clean. No trace of any kind of dissipation in him. I ought to know about him those years — we were awful close together.

If what Peter Doyle has said is to be true than the rumor of him having 6 legitimate children would be false.  In my research, I have not come across an article that pacifically eluded to the fact that he was ever romantically involved with a woman. It has not proven to be a fact. I have read many articles that pointed out the fact that Walt Whitman kissed and went to bed with several men throughout his lifetime. Some report that he did not try to hide the fact that he was gay, while other stated that he was afraid to come out of the closet. I do believe that Walt Whitman was in fact gay, however, if you consider the time frame of the nineteenth century in which homosexuality was viewed as being a taboo and the consequence of a man that would  publicly acknowledging  in the open that he is gay was not heard of in that timeframe as it is today’s world. In essence, the nineteenth century prevented him from telling the world that the great poet was in fact gay, and perhaps by incorporating it into his poetry was the only way to express himself.

As I was finishing my research I came across more of his poems which led me to believe that he was in fact America’s beloved gay poet. They include the following poems:

 

 

WE TWO BOYS TOGETHER CLINGING

We two boys together clinging

One the other never leaving
Up and down the roads going, North and South excursions making,
Power enjoying, elbows stretching, fingers clutching,
Arm’d and fearless, eating, drinking, sleeping, loving,
No law less than ourselves owning, sailing, soldiering, thieving, threatening,
Misers, menials, priests alarming, air breathing, water drinking, on the turf or the sea-beach

dancing,
Cities wrenching, ease scorning, statutes mocking, feebleness chasing,

Fulfilling our foray.

Calamus

When I heard at the close of the day how my name had been
receiv’d with plaudits in the capitol, still it was not a happy
night for me that follow’d,
And else when I carous’d, or when my plans were accomplish’d,
still I was not happy,
But the day when I rose at dawn from the bed of perfect
health, refresh’d, singing, inhaling the ripe breath of
autumn,
When I saw the full moon in the west grow pale and disappear
in the morning light,
When I wander’d alone over the beach, and undressing bathed,
laughing with the cool waters, and saw the sun rise,
And when I thought how my dear friend my lover was on his
way coming, O then I was happy,
O then each breath tasted sweeter, and all that day my food
nourish’d me more, and the beautiful day pass’d well,
And the next came with equal joy, and with the next at evening
came my friend,
And that night while all was still I heard the waters roll slowly
continually up the shores,
I heard the hissing rustle of the liquid and sands as directed to
me whispering to congratulate me,
For the one I love most lay sleeping by me under the same
cover in the cool night,
In the stillness in the autumn moonbeams his face was inclined
toward me,
And his arm lay lightly around my breast – and that night
I was happy.

 

When I heard at the Close of the Day
When I heard at the close of the day how I had
been praised in the Capitol, still it was not
a happy night for me that followed,
And else when I caroused nor when my favorite plans were
accomplished was I really happy,
But the day when I arose at dawn from the perfect
health, electric, inhaling sweet breath
When I saw the full moon in the west grow pale and
disappear in the morning light,
When I wandered alone over the beach, and undressing, bathed,
laughing with the waters, and saw the sun rise,
And when I thought how my friend, my lover, was on
his way coming, then O I was happy,
Each breath tasted sweeter and all that day my food
nourished me more and the beautiful day passed well,
And the next came with equal joy and with the next,
at evening, came my friend,
And that night while all was still I heard the waters roll
slowly continually up the shores,
I heard the hissing rustle of the liquid and sands, as directed
to me, whispering to congratulate me,
For the friend I love lay sleeping by my side,
In the stillness his face was inclined toward me, while the
moon’s clear beams shone
And his arm lay lightly over my breast and that night I was happy.

 

 

 
     

 

 

Resources:

http://www.whitmanarchive.org/criticism/current/anc.00154.html                                              

http://rictornorton.co.uk/whitman.htm

http://rictornorton.co.uk/whitman.htm (photo).

 

 

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