Virginia for September 15th

missvirginia on Sep 13th 2009

As I was reading for this posting, I had something on my mind. In one of my other English classes, someone insinuated Whitman as just a gay old man. He said some more unsavory things towards my Whitman, and I immediately shot up my hand and said that I was in love with Whitman and did not take kindly to what he’d said.

Funny enough, in From Pent-up Aching Rivers (248), one of the first poems in the readings, I feel like there are so many allusions to bisexuality. Or maybe, not even bisexuality, just embracing all things sensual, intimate, and physical. Just on the fifth line, he mentions a phallus. Not to be “fifth grade” or anything, but hey! Phallic suggestion! Then he goes into the songs of “procreation, Singing the need of superb children and therein superb grown people” which reminded me of the physically obsessed Romans. It was a city-state obsessed with being the best physically, mentally, and seemingly always prepared for battle. Ironically enough, I’m sure Whitman’s rumored homosexuality was a battle for him, if he had ever been blatant about it.

The next line is “Singing the muscular urge and the blending”, which when I first read it, it seemed to be very cut and dry. The “muscular urge” is obvious phallic imagery and the blending is heterosexual intercourse. However, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed interchangeable. The muscular urge could be for both types of sex, because everyone (mostly…) orgasms which is a muscular urge/twitch/whatever. And the blending is describing the bodies creating that “superb child”. Even if the line is describing homosexual sex, blending could also describe the “two becoming one”-ness about sex.

Later on, after the swimmer lines, he lists “the mystic derliria, the madness amorous, and the utter abandonment”. I started thinking, is that the cycle for sex or relationships? I’m thinking it’s both–there is the initial attraction, the infatuation and “lust/love at first sight” ordeal. If we were to look at this from a relationship point of view, then there’s the content, “I love you, you love me, we can make this work forever” stage. Lastly, cue the jaws music…there’s the “utter abandonment”, the breakup. In sex, there’s the initial arousal that is called mystic deliria (catchy), then the main course…the madness amorous…and then the climax/refractory period where the feelings of abandonment can come in to play.

Whitman was pretty much exalting and proclaiming love. Love in armies (i.e. I Sing the Body Electric), love for women (i.e. A Woman Waits for Me), love in friendships with the same sex (i.e. Out of the Rolling Ocean the Crowd). In the words of Whitman himself, “Have you ever loved the body of a woman? Have you ever loved the body of a man? Do you not see that these are exactly the same to all in all nations and times all over the earth?” I think Whitman wanted people to be able to look past the body, to look within the person.

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5 Responses to “Virginia for September 15th”

  1. Avatar of Koharu Koharu says:

    It’s funny how a great poet like Whitman could be judged based on his sexuality rather than his work. He wrote about bringing people together and universal love and understanding between genders and races- a 21’st century thinker born in the 20th.

  2. Avatar of tallersam tallersam says:

    I like your thoughts about relationships. I too was seeing how Whitman can’t get away from the more negative aspects of relationships. As a poet of inclusion, he talks about insecurities almost as much as he talks about the happier times. However, it’s interesting that he wants people to look within the person, when he himself is looking to others (the salvation of the love of his comrades).

  3. Virginia,

    I really enjoyed your post this week. My roommate was actually in the class where that happened, and she related this incident to me (because she knew how outraged I’d be). Way to stand up for Walt!

    Your post really made me think about Whitman dealing with the body. It’s still a difficult concept for me, but I think maybe he was saying not so much to look at the soul past the body, but to look at the soul as it is contained in the body (as in, what they form together). Earlier in that poem, he says “O you entirely possess me.” I think he means that his partner possesses him both ways–physically in sex, and emotionally. And it is in this act, where he celebrates the woman for who she is while sleeping with her, that he shows that. I was also thinking a lot about Whitman and his sexuality too, and how easily or readily his “friendships” were accepted by society. Do you think he ever (at least in his younger days) wished that he preferred one sex over the other?

  4. Avatar of garyrichards garyrichards says:

    Virginia, your heartfelt defense of Whitman in the “larger world” has been impeccable.

    One of the things that your post here suggests to me, especially in the third paragraph, is your critical implication that the discourses of sexuality, especially those of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, often focus too much on object choice, the sex of the other person (or persons) involved during sex. The anthropologist Gayle Rubin has a (now dated) essay titled, appropriately enough, “Thinking Sex” in which she argues that sexuality is so much more than just the sex of the other body or bodies involved. When we remove or deemphasize these sometimes minor differences associated with biological sex, the interacting sexual bodies and their activities, such as orgasm, can become virtually interchangeable and the same regardless if “heterosexual,” “homosexual,” or “bisexual”; indeed, these categories may no longer signify meaningfully, just as they have come not to do for many people.

  5. Avatar of adamb adamb says:

    Whitman’s sensuality reminds me of the SNL skit about the “lovers”. It is a coincidence that the man (played by Will Ferrel) is verbose and has a beard?

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