This poem, for me, is one of earnest pleading: for acceptance, for peace, for love. While one could say that the true theme of the work is acceptance of non-heteronormative relationships (a notion supported by its presence in the Calamus cluster), I think it has a broader application. The act of walking hand in hand has multiple meanings – the public display of love by a couple; the safety of a child’s hand in their parent’s; the solidarity of a group standing up for a common cause. It’s always about trust and connection. In today’s world it’s so very easy to find divisions, and although this text is over a century old, I believe that Whitman’s direct and passionate call for people from all walks of life to come together in a universal love still bears repeating. My setting attempts to capture Whitman’s enthusiasm and the declamatory nature that so often pervades his work.
A leaf for hand in hand!
You natural persons old and young!
You on the Eastern Sea, and you on the Western!
You on the Mississippi, and on all the branches
and bayous of the Mississippi!
You friendly boatmen and mechanics! You roughs!
You twain! And all processions moving along the streets!
I wish to infuse myself among you till I see it common
for you to walk hand in hand.
– Walt Whitman, from “Leaves of Grass”, Calamus
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