Sex & Sexuality in the Poetry of Walt Whitman

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"I have not gain'd acceptance of my own time,
but have fallen back on fond dreams of the future"
(by Walt Whitman, qtd. in Miller, Sex and Sexuality)

SEX AND SEXUALITY IN THE POETRY OF WALT WHITMAN

Perhaps, in the following essay I put a quart into a pint pot, because I intend to puzzle out, or rather, find and give a deeper insight into Walt Whitman's sexuality that is still a question on agenda. There are readers and critics who state that it is a shame to humble his poetry to this level, but I think that he was homosexual in his era the topic cannot be left untouched, because therefore this factor was very influential on his everyday life, thinking and hence on his poetry, too. His only volume, Leaves of Grass – that was published several times – was first published at in 1855 Whitman's expense. As it can be easily foretold, there was and there continues a huge debate about Whitman's homosexuality, or to say, his sexual identity. There are readers who resist to accept and affirm that he was homosexual or even bisexual. The attitudes toward his sexuality has changed and supposedly are changing, and there are critics, who tinge their opinions and for example Gay Wilson Allen - who wrote a biography about Walt Whitman applying the title "The Solitary Singer" – says that his "sexual emotions were stronger for men than for women"(qtd in Miller, ex and Sexuality) . Above this, according to other critics, Whitman himself wrote openly about this issue in his letters and prefaces; he sought the ways of expressing it, to communicate his homosexuality to his readers. It was most common in case of Peter Doyle who was ex-Confederate soldier who became Whitman's intimate friend till Whitman's death. Whitman wrote to Peter Doyle often when on leave from his Washington civil service work, as in this August 21, 1869. Whitman discusses his friend's health problems and refers to a misunderstanding between them but includes an array of affectionate terms. In a notebook a year later, Whitman replaced Doyle's initials with the code 16.4 and the barely legible "him" with "her" in vowing to fight his overly close "adhesiveness" in this friendship. This entry has been interpreted as the best proof of Whitman's homosexual inclinations. In my view, there exists not only one possible reading and understanding of someone's poetry, and through reading we also construct the text, that is to say, we construct a meaning that will reflect our background and attitudes as well. So according to readers Whitman can be the nationalist, the moralist, the advocate of the family, the prophet, the crusader for liberty, the enemy of social injustice and even the gay poet. Miller deals with the major critics of Walt Whitman. According to him, Robert K. Martin explains it in his "The Homosexual Tradition in American Poetry" (1979), it seems that homosexuals tend to understand Whitman's poetry as a homosexual poetry more often than those do who avow themselves heterosexual Respectively we could take stock of one of those critics, namely Newton Arvin, who acknowledged and did not minimize the importance of Whitman's homosexuality. Arvin himself fought with similar problems as Whitman did, and shared similar tortured life. He was dismissed from his position because there were homosexual pornographic movies found in his home. After this scandal, he began to quickly relapse, and finally he died. He was who said the following: "The fact of Whitman's homosexuality is one that cannot be denied by any informed and candid reader of his Calamus poems, of his published letters, and of accounts by unbiased acquaintances; after a certain point the fact stares one unanswerably in the face." In this essay my own viewpoint is that it is not impossible to assume that Walt Whitman was not only outstanding and different from the crowds as regards his poetical talent, and the techniques he introduced but in a sense that he was also a forerunner of...
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