Section of Whitman's Leaves of Grass containing 45 poems first published in the 1860 edition. Its theme of the spiritual love of man for man complements that of “Children of Adam.”
The calamus, a plant generally known as the sweet flag, serves as a threefold symbol. Its leaves symbolize mortality; its fascicles, which cling together for support, represent “adhesive” love or friendship; and its perennial pink-tinged aromatic root is symbolic of immortal life, from which bloom successive transient forms. This mystical group of poems, frequently considered a reflection of the author's homosexuality, was said by Whitman to have “Political significance” in celebrating the “beautiful and sane affection of man for man” which would “make the continent indissoluble” and weld the states into a “Living Union.”
The title was used by Richard Maurice Bucke for his edition (1897) of letters written between 1868 and 1880 by Whitman to his friend Peter Doyle, a Washington streetcar conductor.