Week Two: May 28-June 3

The Body Electric and WW’s Civil War Years


We have two primary areas of focus for this week’s readings.  In the first half of the week, we will be reading some of Whitman’s work most explicitly focused on the body and sexuality, especially the male-male intimacy he called “adhesiveness” (as compared at “amativeness,” which is a hetero connection; in neither case does Whitman insist on sexual consummation for these forces to be powerful). As noted elsewhere, it was the Children of Adam sequence, focused on the sexual connection of men and women, that drew social and legal censure for Whitman (and cost him a government job). From this sequence, we will read the famous work “I Sing the Body Electric.”  To the modern reader, the Calamus poems, which flew somewhat below the radar in the 19th century, may be more surprising, open as they are about same sex union. (As Whitman said, “And yet they expose me more than all my other poems.”)

But adhesiveness also informed Whitman’s feelings about the fraught nation and the Civil War, the focus of the second half of our week, since he believed that a love between men, between everyday citizens, was the key to overcoming anger and division, and he developed those bonds with the injured men for whom he was a “spiritual wound-dresser.” For us at UMW, this time of Whitman’s life may be of particular interest since his calling as a nurse was found in our city of Fredericksburg.

Additionally, this week we will reinforce the vocabulary of poetic form and analysis.


WW & Peter Doyle in traditional marriage pose



  • Whitman, “I Sing the Body Electric” (pp. 81-88)
  • Whitman, the Calamus poems (pp. 95-112)
  • Killingsworth, “Whitman and the Gay American Ethos” (pdf)
This is a calamus plant. Yep.


  • View the VoiceThread presentation on poetic form and vocabulary.  Feel free to add comments and questions to the thread!  NOTE: the vocabulary from this thread is fair game for quizzes in future weeks.
  • Comment on the focal artifacts for Week Two in VoiceThread. (Choose the right group!)
  • Recommended: Come chat with Dr. Scanlon in virtual office hours for a few minutes!
  • Free blog.


Soldiers at UMW Brompton



  • Essay 1 due Sunday June 3 at midnight. Assignment in Canvas module.
  • Free blog!
  • When you have completed your reading for Week Two, take the Canvas quiz.