In other words, Whitman is seeking to illustrate why the personal identity of the woman or himself is unimportant regarding the events of the poem. While it may have seemed important in the beginning of the events that the woman was the woman and Whitman was Whitman, by the end of this progression, these distinctions are meaningless. This is one of the fundamental obstacles to defining personal identity: sameness with one's self at any given instant fails to necessarily imply sameness at another point and time. It may be possible to argue that man's body carries something singular with itself through time, but this may have no relation to mental identity. This is the reason why the problem of identity finds itself at the crossroads of epistemology and metaphysics, or of thought and physicality. Whitman position is that this individuality is indeed transient, and it lacks any real meaning from certain points-of-view; these points-of-view, accordingly, may be just as real as those that we commonly accept as real.
We find this theme running throughout "Leaves of Grass." Although much of the particular linguistic devices that Whitman uses underscore the differences between the sexes, it seems to be his fundamental goal to blur this boundary as much as possible. In "Calamus" he writes, "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," (Whitman). Once again, in this passage the audience is provided with the distinct differences between what it is to be a boy or a girl, yet then, Whitman immediately supplies the notion that the distinction between these two bodies does not truly exist. The singular nature of the boy and the girl, in this passage, is again important in that it only exists in the narrator's mind. These words are immediately followed by the more objectively physical realization that this unity cannot happen because of the need for social propriety: "I am not to speak to you, I am to think of you 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," (Whitman). These are purely physical concerns; and like the necessity of the rich woman sitting inside of her house while, mentally, she frolics in a sexual nature with young men, the narrator is forbidden to speak or think of his friend while, in his mind, they are actually together and indistinguishable.
Still, in "Calamus" Whitman presents a more overtly sexual illustration of the emotional and spiritual union that sex...
He writes, "Ah lover and perfect equal, I meant that you should discover me so by faint indirections, And I when I meet you mean to discover you by the like in you," (Whitman). Here we are presented with a version of love that is not so much the combination of two people, but the reflection of one within the other. Basically, Whitman sees his own qualities within the person that he loves; and the reverse is true as well. It is somewhat more difficult to discern a feminine quality to this portion of the text, for it is almost completely masculine in its nature. In fact, the title of the poem itself suggests the homoerotic themes that run throughout it. So, although one of Whitman's purposes within "Leaves of Grass" is to explore the vague range in between the strictly masculine and the strictly feminine, we are often left with a prevalently masculine view of the world and, particularly, of love.
In this way, although Moon's objections to the description of the female orgasm at the end of "The Twenty-Ninth Bather" may have been misplaced, they remain nonetheless relevant in the overall discussion of Whitman's poetry. It may have been, as Moon suggests, that Whitman was seeking to remain on the side of propriety in his own writing, and omitted such clear references to femininity; however, it is far more likely that Whitman's point-of-view as a man subconsciously resulted in his preference for masculine descriptions of love.
Moon, Michael. "The Twenty-Ninth Bather: Identity, Fluidity, Gender, and Sexuality in Section 11 of 'Song of Myself.'" The Norton Anthology of Literature. New York W.W. Norton and Company, 2002.
Whitman, Walt. "Leaves of Grass." Bartleby.com, 2006. Available:
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