The Calamus Poems


Carte de visite photograph of Walt Whitman, 1871

The “Calamus cluster” of poems first appeared in the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass. They and their author, Walt Whitman, were pivotal to early homosexual emancipation efforts.

In verse, the Poet connected the calamus plant to intimacy between males: “(O here [at pond-side] I last saw him that tenderly loves me . . .  / And this, O this shall henceforth be the token of comrades, this calamus root . . . )”[1]

The Calamus poems include such verse as “In the stillness in the autumn moonbeams his face was inclined / toward me, / And his arm lay lightly around my breast—and that night I was / happy.”[2] In the poems Whitman speaks of establishing “[t]he institution of the dear love of comrades.”[3]


1. Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, intro. Justin Kaplan (New York: Bantam Classic, 1983), 100.

2. Whitman, 103.

3. Whitman, 108.



Harper's Weekly newspaper, May 5, 1860, for the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass debuting the Calamus poems