"We Two Boys Together Clinging"
By Walt Whitman
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.
Walt Whitman's poem "We Two Boys Together Clinging" is often identified as a poem of homosexual love, a label breeched from its title and the history of its author. Other scholars insist the poem represents a unique concept of the brotherhood of two young men, forged by the experiences of war. In either interpretation, the poem paints a portrait of masculinity through its setting of soldiering during the Civil War (1861–1865). Whitman's poetry, including "We Two Boys Together Clinging", was written before the "unspoken love" of homosexuality had a name to be spoken of. The context of the poem recalls the camaraderie of men through the challenges and ruggedness of this American war. Enveloping the romance of soldiering, the lines of the poem easily echo the ancient wars of the Romans as much as modern and contemporary wars through which notions of pride, glory, and masculinity are still associated. Whitman's portrayal of this intense companionship developed from "excursions making" and "sailing, soldiering, thieving, threatening …" often leaves the reader with notions of survival, learned (or inherited) skill, manipulating the enemy, strength of body and intelligence, and the pursuit of adventure—all aspects society traditionally perceive as masculine.
In "We Two Boys Together Clinging," a duo of young boys goes parading through various towns of the North and the South, taking part in numerous loud and obnoxious activities such as drinking, thieving, and enjoying public power; all the time, the boys never left each other's side. According to Charles M. Oliver in his Critical Companion to Walt Whitman, with the last line, the speaker reveals that the two boys are homosexual and that they have been marauding places for food and to see the shocked faces of the people when they recognize their homosexuality.
Normally, Whitman would write about the "self" or the "everyman," but it's unlikely that either of these are strongly involved in "We Two Boys Together Clinging." The story itself is not really self-enhancing because the speaker does not refer to anything that sets up a sense of fulfillment. The boys merely travel from location to location, scrounging for food and laughs, but they do not lead full lives. In fact, their lives are hallow and lacking, and they should be, at least, trying to build a solid relationship with each other to base their adventures less on necessity and more on friendship. The "everyman," however, is slightly prevalent in the people the boys visit, like the priests, because religion was a large basis for the lives of the common citizen.