Whitman, Romance With a Stranger
By Garry Gamber
The concept of brief encounters, even
romantic encounters, with a stranger recurs often in the verses of Walt
Take, for example, these lines from one
of the inscriptions that Whitman wrote to his 1860 edition of Leaves of
"Stranger, if you passing meet me and desire to speak to me,
why should you not speak to me?
And why should I not speak to you?"
Clearly, Walt Whitman sees brief, chance
encounters with strangers as an appropriate opportunity for the strangers
to interact. Perhaps the communication will allow the strangers to become
In the lines of "To A
Stranger," Whitman indicates that the strangers might become intimate
and affectionate friends. The narrator in the poem is comfortably able to
imagine himself creating a past history with the passing stranger and to
foresee the opportunities for them to enjoy each other in physically
Here’s a line from “Song of the Open
Road,” written in 1860.
"Do you know what it is, as you pass, to be loved by strangers? Do
you know the talk of those turning eye-balls?"
And from Whitman’s “Carol of
"If you meet some stranger in the streets, and love him or her—why
I often meet strangers in the street, and love them."
Also consider this excerpt from “Who Is
Now Reading This?”
"Or may-be a stranger is reading this who has secretly loved me,
Walt Whitman’s verses create a sense of
comfort with the idea that strangers can longingly look at each other and
act upon their impulses. Perhaps the next encounter will be with one’s
soulmate, as in the line, "You must be he I was seeking," from
"To A Stranger."
It seems reasonable to presume that Walt
Whitman met many strangers in his lifetime and enjoyed the encounters.
It’s been said that Whitman was one of America’s first self-identified
homosexuals and his lifestyle may have reflected his ease with and
attraction to strangers.
“To A Stranger” is also known as
“Calamus 22.” “Calamus” is a series or cluster of 45 poems that
were included in the editions of Leaves Of Grass.
The “Calamus” series is about
“manly attachment,” and it's a series in which Whitman will “tell
the secret of my nights and days.” Both quotes are from the first poem
in the “Calamus” series.
Among the concluding lines in “To A
Stranger,” Walt Whitman says, “I am not to speak to you.” a phrase
typical of a man following orders, as in society’s judgment against
forbidden love. Yet undaunted and un-discouraged Whitman says, “I am to
see to it that I do not lose you.”
It seems that love, even with a stranger,
will find a way.
To A Stranger
By Walt Whitman
Passing stranger! you do not know
How longingly I look upon you,
You must be he I was seeking,
Or she I was seeking
(It comes to me as a dream)
I have somewhere surely
Lived a life of joy with you,
All is recall'd as we flit by each other,
Fluid, affectionate, chaste, matured,
You grew up with me,
Were a boy with me or a girl with me,
I ate with you and slept with you, your body has become
not yours only nor left my body mine only,
You give me the pleasure of your eyes,
face, flesh as we pass,
You take of my beard, breast, hands,
I am not to speak to you, I am to think
when I sit alone or wake at night, alone
I am to wait, I do not doubt I am to meet you again
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.
Garry Gamber is a public school teacher
and entrepreneur. He writes articles about real estate, health and
nutrition, and internet dating services. He is the owner of http://www.Anchorage-Homes.com
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