Reconstructing the Early Calamus Sequence


Among Walt Whitman’s papers in the Valentine-Barrett collection at the University of Virginia is a handwritten manuscript titled “Live Oak, with Moss.” A dozen poems, the short collection is the first known iteration of what Whitman would develop into the longer Calamus sequence, published in the 1860 version of Leaves of Grass.

Fredson Bowers, who first discovered the early Calamus cluster, described the topical poems as “narrating an unhappy love affair … having special autobiographical significance for Whitman.”

Later, while visiting the Berg Collection in New York, Bowers came across a note in Whitman’s handwriting on the back of a separate ms. that contained parts of the first “Live Oak” poem and spoke to the general vision of the early sequence:

A cluster of poems, sonnets expressing the thoughts,
        pictures, aspirations, &c
Fit to be perused during the days of the approach of Death.
        (that I have prepared myself for that purpose.—
        (Remember now—
        Remember the[n]

“Live Oak, with Moss” is published here as a stand-alone collection, separated from the larger sequence and reconstructed as originally written and ordered by Whitman. Photos of the manuscript are accompanied by transcriptions, including edits, on facing pages.

Author: Walt Whitman
Editor: Anthony Opal
Booklet, 48pp, 7 x 5.25 in
Language: English
ISBN: 978-1-7356630-7-4
Published: December 8, 2020


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