Tuesday, November 24th, 2009 | Author:


NOT heaving from my ribb’d breast only,
Not in sighs at night in rage dissatisfied with myself,
Not in those long-drawn, ill-supprest sighs,
Not in many an oath and promise broken,
Not in my wilful and savage soul’s volition,
Not in the subtle nourishment of the air,
Not in this beating and pounding at my temples and wrists,
Not in the curious systole and diastole within which will one day
Not in many a hungry wish told to the skies only,
Not in cries, laughter, defiances, thrown from me when alone far
in the wilds,
Not in husky pantings through clinch’d teeth,
Not in sounded and resounded words, chattering words, echoes,
dead words,
Not in the murmurs of my dreams while I sleep,
Nor the other murmurs of these incredible dreams of every day,
Nor in the limbs and senses of my body that take you and dismiss
you continually—not there,
Not in any or all of them O adhesiveness! O pulse of my life!
Need I that you exist and show yourself any more than in these


This poem first grabbed my attention with Whitman’s use of Not at the beginning of each line, and ending the poem with a line that starts with the powerful word Need. While reading it (and re-reading it numerous times) I stumbled upon a word which we mentioned several times in our class session. Adhesiveness is referred in this poem as the pulse of the poets life. Being that he did not know how to give name to his feelings he borrowed a word from phrenology denoting same-sex friendships.

I went to the Merriam-Webster’s Online dictionary and found the term adhesiveness which, of course, has to do more with adhesive tape than with same-sex love.

This is a very powerful poem in which Whitman shows his dissatisfaction with the American non-tolerant society and his difficulty to express his new-found way of loving people.

P.S. I am not quite sure why there isn’t a copy of the manuscript page of this poem in the Barrett Manuscripts. If anyone manages to find one, be sure to “link me”. Thanks.

Category: 1855
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  1. Avatar of kosneda kosneda says:

    The pictures … STUNNING :)
    Thumbs up for the idea !

  2. Josip, yes, it looks like Calamus 6 is not one of the manuscripts held by the University of Virginia’s Barrett Library. To find where the manuscript of this poem is, I’d recommedn going to the “manuscripts” link on the Whitman Archive. First place to look always is “poetry manuscripts” here– though “Not Heaving From My Ribbed Breast Only” isn’t there. Then I would look at the alphabetical listing in the “integrated guide to WW’s manuscripts”, though it’s not there either (!). The next source that would conclusively give you the answer is, unfortunately, not available electronically yet, though perhaps you can request it through interlibrary loan:

    Bowers’ Author: Whitman, Walt, 1819-1892.
    Title: Whitman’s manuscripts: Leaves of grass (1860). A parallel text, edited with notes and introduction by Fredson Bowers.
    Physical Description: lxxiv, 264 p. port., facsims. 25 cm.
    Publisher/ Date: Chicago, University of Chicago Press [1955]

    JR LeMaster’s “Walt Whitman Encyclopedia” would also help, if you could locate a copy… sorry I can’t give you a definite answer, but I hope this helps!

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