In all editions, this resolute announcement ‘In Paths Untrodden’ opens the ‘Calamus’ cluster of poems, which first appeared in 1860. After over 40 years of his life conforming to the norms, the poet is now determined to break away from it all, to cast aside the moral structures of society and strike out into hitherto unexplored territories and experiences. ‘The life that exhibits itself’; a life which is just a public show to keep up appearances. ‘Standards hitherto publish’d’; to create and define new standards and values for oneself. ‘Tallying and talk’d to by tongues aromatic’; in the solitude of nature with no human being around, except the aromatic Calamus plant growing nearby, the poet finds the freedom and courage to be himself. ‘Athletic love’; attachment between men.
Escaping by himself to a secluded spot, ‘by margins of pond-waters’, gives him the freedom and the clarity to see things clearly, he realizes that for too long he has been feeding his soul with mere materialistic pleasures, and with borrowed and inherited beliefs. This recognition gives him the courage to articulate what he had never dared to acknowledge before, to speak as that he would not dare elsewhere except here by himself away from the clank of the world, which is ‘to celebrate the need of comrades’. This acknowledgement leads him to affirm his resolution ‘to sing no songs today but those of manly attachment’, the ‘substantial life’ and ‘athletic love’.
The joy and beauty of comradeship, ‘the beautiful and sane affection of man for man’, as Whitman wrote in preface to ‘Leaves of grass’ and ‘Two Rivulets’ is a recurrent theme in Whitman’s poetry. For example, in ‘I Hear It Was Charged Against Me’, the poet talks of the new ‘institution of the dear love of comrades’, while the sight of a live oak growing, makes him ‘think of manly love’ when he said that he saw in Louisiana a Live Oak growing. Critics have suggested that lines like these hint at the poet’s sexual preference.