Thursday, December 2, 2010


The "Calamus" poems are a cluster of poems in Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. These poems celebrate and promote "the manly love of comrades". Many critics believe that these poems are Whitman's clearest expressions in print of his ideas about homosexual love.


This cluster of poems contains a number of images and motifs that are repeated throughout. The most important is probably the Calamus root itself. Acorus calamus or Sweet Flag is a marsh-growing plant similar to a cat-tail. Whitman continues through this one of the central images of Leaves of Grass--Calamus is treated as a larger example of the grass that he writes of elsewhere. Some scholars have pointed out as reasons for Whitman's choice the phallic shape of what Whitman calls, "pink-tinged roots" of Calamus, its mythological association with failed male same-sex love and with writing (see Kalamos), and the allegedly mind-altering effects of the root. The root was chiefly chewed at the time as a breath-freshener and to relieve stomach complaints.


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,
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.


The images in this post are paintings by Thomas Eakins.  Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins (July 25, 1844 - June 25, 1916) was a realist painter, photographer, sculptor, and fine arts educator. He is widely acknowledged to be one of the most important artists in American art history.

For the length of his professional career, from the early 1870s until his health began to fail some forty years later, Eakins worked exactingly from life, choosing as his subject the people of his hometown of Philadelphia. He painted several hundred portraits, usually of friends, family members, or prominent people in the arts, sciences, medicine, and clergy. Taken en masse, the portraits offer an overview of the intellectual life of Philadelphia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; individually, they are incisive depictions of thinking persons. As well, Eakins produced a number of large paintings which brought the portrait out of the drawing room and into the offices, streets, parks, rivers, arenas, and surgical amphitheaters of his city. These active outdoor venues allowed him to paint the subject which most inspired him: the nude or lightly clad figure in motion. In the process he could model the forms of the body in full sunlight, and create images of deep space utilizing his studies in perspective.


jaygeemmm said...

I just love these posts. Touching, memorable, always educational.
Thanks, man!
Peace <3

Banister said...

I have always enjoyed both Whitman and Eakins and this post, which combines the two is wonderful.

JoeBlow said...

Thanks, Jay. I have a passion for poetry and being able to add some illustrations to them are a lot of fun for me. My own version of interpretation.

Thanks, Banister, I love Whitman and Eakins, too. I have a few more posts like this I plan to do.