Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Edwin H. Woodruff to Walt Whitman, 4 June 1882

Date: June 4, 1882

Source: Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Whitman Archive ID: loc.04617

Contributors to digital file: Natalie O'Neal, Alex Kinnaman, and Nicole Gray



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Ithaca N.Y.
June 4th 1882

Mr Walt Whitman:

I am the owner of and read much in the interdicted edition of your Leaves of Grass.

That reading has resulted in the poem contained in the number of the Cornell Era mailed with this. Give it three minutes time and tell me if you like it.

In my youthful ardor, I am rejoiced at the interdiction. It will make the revolution the greater.

With the hope that I may learn to know you fully I am

Your Friend
Ed H Woodruff

Box 408 Ithaca N.Y.


THE LOOK

Virile old savant, jovial and generous,
Why, at first sight, did we like one another?
The beams which joined your eyes to mine
Transmitted, by forces within us, sight, sound, taste and smell.

You are courted by scholars and soft dilettanti;
'T would seem that you need not the love that I offer;
That you might think the friendship I give you
As weak as the body that holds it—
The last one and young one, I mean.

But—a moment—is this not the reason?
Perhaps it is only a duty you owe me,
The return of a love which I, as a father or mother of ages ago,
Gave to you, then a weakling, the son of an immortal union.

Or, may be, the look that we think the first one and one of strange power,
Is the continuation of one that was stopped by the sacrifice flames,
As they mounted and withered the flesh from our bones.

That is it. I remember it all.
How we, two atoms of the mound-building wave of mankind,
Two hardy young warriors, shielded in bright-hammered copper
And decked out in strings of the far ocean's shells,
Wielded the flint-sword with serrated edges;
Fought the encroaching tribe on the east.

We were conquered and taken as captives, to work on the slowly raised tumuli.
To the mines at the north were we driven in summer;
There, scourged every day, we toiled side by side in the pits.

Then came the season when the God of our people held aloof from his children—
When the cold, biting breath of the evil one wrought death through the woodland.
And we two, bowed under jagged lumps of the metal,
Took our place, side by side, in the far-stretching line of the abject,
To march through the hazy and gay shrouded forests to our home in the midland.

With the coming of spring, were they wont to celebrate the return of their dazzling god's favor;
Sacred fires were kindled atop the alter-topped mound;
You and I, captives and slaves, were the off'rings;
Up the steep-graded ways of the mound, we toiled mid a throng of shrill shrieking priests.

The summit reached we looked on the multitude far, far below.
We discerned far below us a clamoring swarm;
A million of up-turned faces; a saffron-hued mass;
Yellow faces, bright hammered copper, the muddy flood by melted snows swollen, that flowed o'er the plain.

To the flames were we given, we youths who had suffered together.
We looked at each other, we two who were suffering together.
A look that we, with false fear, thought the last.
I heard the shouts of the turbulent mass far below.
Sheets of flame beat against the warmth of affection
Envious that aught to themselves might be comparable;
I could see you no longer, I knew nothing more.

Virile old savant, jovial and generous,
When, as we know ourselves now, we shall take the last look,
'Twill not be the last, but the bridge overspanning
The slumbering tides of an unending existence.

ARISTONA. Ed H Woodruff

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