Summary and Analysis: Calamus
To a Locomotive in Winter
The locomotive is hailed as the object of the poet's declamatory song: "Thee for my recitative." Its "black cylindric body" with the "head-light fix'd in front" contains its "fierce-throated beauty." It is presented as the epitome "of the modern." It is an emblem of motion and power," and the poet calls upon it to serve the Muse" and "roll through my chant."
The locomotive is presented as a symbol of the impressive technological progress of America in the 1870s. Whitman fits it into his own system of values and his concept of poetry. He believed that technological objects were fitting subjects for poetry. Here, many technical appearances of the locomotive — for example, side-bars and connecting rods — are described. He asks the locomotive to "merge in verse," which indicates his attitude to the issue of science and poetry; Whitman does not think there is any real conflict between them. The term "recitative" used in relation to the locomotive suggests its musical and operatic effects: the engine's roar is music. The locomotive also becomes a symbol of the spirit and has its own place in the harmonious scheme of the universe.