Walt Whitman: Homoeroticism in Leaves of Grass Essay

Walt Whitman: Homoeroticism in Leaves of Grass Essay

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Leaves of Grass is Walt Whitman’s life legacy and at the same time the most praised and condemned book of poetry. Although fearful of social scorn, there are several poems in Leaves of Grass that are more explicit in showing the homoerotic imagery, whereas there are several subtle – should I say “implicit” – images woven into the fabric of the book. It is not strange, then, that he created many different identities in order to remain safe. What Whitman faced in writing his poetry was the difficulty in describing and resonating manly and homosexual love. He was to find another voice of his, a rhetoric device, and his effort took two forms: simplified, and subverted word play.
The first was to understand and render the experience in everyday terms, as in the poem Behold This Swarthy Face. Whitman puts emphasis on masculinity “in this swarthy face, these gray eyes” (149), and other words, too, are expressive enough to explain to the reader what kind of person is to be loved. What is not as subtle as in some other of Whitman’s poems is the idea in the second part of the poem: “And I on the crossing of the street or on the ship’s deck give a kiss in / return” (149) – the meeting of the two is to be recognized anywhere, be it on the street or on a ship's deck.
When it comes to the second form, Davidson notices that “The other and far more prevalent form of presented homoerotic love was by means of terms of oppression, subversion” (54). Exemplar poem of this form is Not Heaving from My Ribb’d Breast Only. In it the lyrical subject is trapped in fears and must break out of suppression in order to be himself. In the end of the poem there is a sudden release: “O pulse of my life! / Need I that you exist and show yourself any more than in...


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Bergman, David. Choosing Our Fathers: Gender and Identity in Whitman, Ashbery and Richard Howard. American Literary History 1.2 (1989): 383-403. JSTOR. Web. 29 March 2012.
Davidson, Edward H.. The Presence of Walt Whitman. Journal of Aesthetic Education 17.4 (1983): 41-63. JSTOR. Web. 29 March 2012.
Herrman, Steven B.. Walt Whitman and the Homoerotic Imagination. Jung Journal: Culture & Psyche 1.2 (2007): 16-47. JSTOR. Web. 29 March 2012.
Maslan, Mark. Whitman and His Doubles: Division and Union in Leaves of Grass and Its Critics. American Literary History 6.1 (1994): 119-139. JSTOR. Web. 29 March 2012.
Metzer, David. Reclaiming Walt: Marc Blitzstein’s Whitman Settings. Journal of the American Musicological Society 48.2 (1995): 240-271. JSTOR. Web. 29 March 2012.
Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. Pennsylvania: the Pennsylvania State University, 2007. Print.

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