Songs From Calamus
Ein Lied-Zyklus für Tenor und Klavier
Gedicht von Walt Whitman
Whitman only published one book - Leaves of Grass - but it was always a work in progress. He added poems and revised others for each succeeding edition. Thus, the first edition (1819) was a small book with only 12 poems and the last, often refered to as the Deathbed Edition (1892), contained over 400. Some of these he wrote in "clusters" of related poems. Such is the case with the Calamus cluster.
The title was chosen to alert the reader that these were poems about what he called "the love of comrades," "manly love" or with the code word, "adhesiveness." The concept of homosexuality, as we know it today, was very different in Whitman's time, but violently socially taboo. Acorus calamus is a reed-like species of marsh grass. In Poetry and Prose, Whitman wrote that it s a "? very large and aromatic grass, or root, spears three feet high-often called 'sweet flag'-grows all over the Northern and Middle States."
The phallic plant has always been a symbol of love and associated with the Greek myth of Kalamos, son of the river god who loved the youth Karpos. When Karpos died in a swimming accident, Kalamos transformed himself into a reed so he could always be near the spot where his beloved died, and the rustling of the reeds in the winds sounds like moans of mourning.
The Calamus cluster, 39 poems in all, recount the story of a manly love found and lost from the perspective of some time later. They are bittersweet memories. I chose four poems for my own cluster. They represent the four stages of such a relationship: initial attraction, first coy interactions, fullblossomed love, and the bitterness of it's ending. It is possible that these events actually happened or that they all occurred in the poets mind without ever revealing his thoughts to the intended.
Some musical devices, such as the rustling of the leaves in the third song and the constant use of seconds as two people who are close but not yet together in the second one, are obvious. But, other than some indications of tempo, I hesitate to give out remarks about how toperform the songs, or even metronome markings, that might give the singer a preconceived notion. This situation has happened to everyone. So, I say to the singer: revive the memories of a similar event in your life: a particularly heartbreaking one is best. Bring the telling of that memory to the vivid present, and tell us that story as if it ending some time ago but the hurt remains strong, If, by some chance, the singer has not had this experience, he should wait to sing this cycle until he has.