Walt Whitman removed this verse from later editions of his “Calamus” cycle, but here it is, as it appeared in the first, 1860 edition:
Long I thought that knowledge alone would suffice me—O if I could but obtain knowledge!
Then my lands engrossed me—Lands of the prairies, Ohio’s land, the southern savannas, engrossed me—For them I would live—I would be their orator;
Then I met the examples of old and new heroes—I heard of warriors, sailors, and all dauntless persons—And it seemed to me that I too had it in me to be as dauntless as any—and would be so;
And then, to enclose all, it came to me to strike up the songs of the New World—And then I believed my life must be spent in singing;
But now take notice, land of the prairies, land of the south savannas, Ohio’s land,
Take notice, you Kanuck woods—and you Lake Huron—and all that with you roll toward Niagara—and you Niagara also,
And you, Californian mountains—That you each and all find somebody else to be your singer of songs,
For I can be your singer of songs no longer—One who loves me is jealous of me, and withdraws me from all but love,
With the rest I dispense—I sever from what I thought would suffice me, for it does not—it is now empty and tasteless to me,
I heed knowledge, and the grandeur of The States, and the example of heroes, no more,
I am indifferent to my own songs—I will go with him I love,
It is to be enough for us that we are together—We never separate again.
Symonds first heard of Whitman when he went to visit FWH Myers (ODNB) in Cambridge in 1865. The two were sitting in Myers’ rooms at Trinity, and Myers read this verse aloud to Symonds. That moment changed the life of the 22-year-old budding scholar, who much later would write that, “had it not been for the contact of his fervent spirit with my own, the pyre ready to be lighted, the combustible materials of modern thought awaiting the touch of the fire- bringer, might never have leapt up into the flame of lifelong faith and consolation.”
Reading this poem again, it’s really not hard to see why.