SCENTED herbage of my breast,
Leaves from you I yield, I write, to be perused best afterwards,
Tomb-leaves, body-leaves, growing up above me, above death,
Perennial roots, tall leaves—O the winter shall not freeze you, delicate leaves,
Every year shall you bloom again—out from where you retired, you shall emerge again;
O I do not know whether many, passing by, will discover you, or inhale your faint
odor—but
I
believe a few will;
O slender leaves! O blossoms of my blood! I permit you to tell, in your own way, of the
heart
that
is under you;
O burning and throbbing—surely all will one day be accomplish’d;
O I do not know what you mean, there underneath yourselves—you are not happiness,
You are often more bitter than I can bear—you burn and sting me,
Yet you are very beautiful to me, you faint-tinged roots—you make me think of Death,
Death is beautiful from you—(what indeed is finally beautiful, except Death and
Love?)
—O I think it is not for life I am chanting here my chant of lovers—I think it
must
be for
Death,
For how calm, how solemn it grows, to ascend to the atmosphere of lovers,
Death or life I am then indifferent—my Soul declines to prefer,
I am not sure but the high Soul of lovers welcomes death most;
Indeed, O Death, I think now these leaves mean precisely the same as you mean;
Grow up taller, sweet leaves, that I may see! grow up out of my breast!
Spring away from the conceal’d heart there!
Do not fold yourself so in your pink-tinged roots, timid leaves!
Do not remain down there so ashamed, herbage of my breast!
Come, I am determin’d to unbare this broad breast of mine—I have long enough
stifled
and
choked:
—Emblematic and capricious blade, I leave you—now you serve me not;
Away! I will say what I have to say, by itself,
I will escape from the sham that was proposed to me,
I will sound myself and comrades only—I will never again utter a call, only their
call,
I will raise, with it, immortal reverberations through The States,
I will give an example to lovers, to take permanent shape and will through The States;
Through me shall the words be said to make death exhilarating;
Give me your tone therefore, O Death, that I may accord with it,
Give me yourself—for I see that you belong to me now above all, and are folded
inseparably
together—you Love and Death are;
Nor will I allow you to balk me any more with what I was calling life,
For now it is convey’d to me that you are the purports essential,
That you hide in these shifting forms of life, for reasons—and that they are mainly
for
you,
That you, beyond them, come forth, to remain, the real reality,
That behind the mask of materials you patiently wait, no matter how long,
That you will one day, perhaps, take control of all,
That you will perhaps dissipate this entire show of appearance,
That may-be you are what it is all for—but it does not last so very long;
But you will last very long.

Analysis, meaning and summary of the poem by

2 Comments

  1. John Elliott says:

    I think that this is a very meaningful poem for all gay people,revealing the repressed psychology of the homosexual identity.

  2. Nick Anderson says:

    This poem coming from the “calamus” series, most likely deals with Whitman’s struggle to come to terms with his sexual identity. The homosexual connotations in this poem are unmistakable–not neccessarily of erotic nature but rather the dilemma of “comming out,” the consequences of doing so, and of not.
    Grow up taller sweet leaves that I may see! grow
    up out of my breast! Spring away from the
    conceal’d heart there!….Do not remain down there
    so ashamed, herbage of my brest!…I am determin’d
    to unbare this broad breast of mine, I have long
    enough stifled and choked…(17-22).
    The imagerary in this passage is profound; the herbage can easily come to represent Whitman’s homosexuality or that of which conceals it.

    Whitman struggled conceal his sexuality for many years, according to Wikipedia Encyclopedia, “He even went so far as to invent six illegitimate children to correct his public image. Also in poems such as “Once I pass’d Through a Populous City,” he changed the gender of his lover. The poem under superficial analysis becomes a re-telling of a heterosexual love affair, but even though the pronouns are changed, if closer attention is paid to the poem itself there is an inherent tension that is almost exclusive to gay relationships.

    Despite Whitman’s tendancy to cover up his homosexual identity, the calamus poems are seen by many as his so called “comming out.” It is said that these were written after one of Whitman’s failed gay relationships. This poem in particular, (Scented Herbage) portrays Whitman’s life as a heterosexual facade,death represents his true identity,(to be openly gay in 19th century America is to give up life, or at least public recognition. “Give me yourself, for I see that you belong to me now above all, and are folded inseparably together, you love and death are, Nor will I allow you to balk me any more with what I was calling life (28-30). It seems as this poem is a declaration to accept thyself, not to fear death, and to no longer live a life of clandestinity.
    You beyond them come forth to remain, the real
    reality…That you will perhaps dissipate this
    entire show of appearance, That may-be you are
    what is it all for, but it does not last so very
    long, but you will last very long (33-38).
    my english-major translation of this passage is as follows:
    The so-called “life” I have led in the closet, a life of denial, shame, and self-loathing, a life of superficial normativity, this fake life is not one of longevity. My true self will emerge for it is thy own–innate and unchangeable.

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