Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Allen Upward to Walt Whitman, 12 March 1884

Date: March 12, 1884

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: Walt Whitman Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Library, Syracuse, N.Y.

Whitman Archive ID: syr.00019

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Stefan Schöberlein, and Nicole Gray



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O Walt!

Take this Calamus leaf at the hands of him thou hast sought for.1

Lo! I am he.

What shall I say, or how shall I utter the radiant feelings that gush from my heart at the magical words thou hast sung to the unknown? like as the waters at Moses command gushed out form the rock in the desert.

Long had I wandered alone in the earth nor met with a friend or a lover. And wonder not that my tongue now stutters and falters, for never before have I been allowed to express my love to a living soul. And none can comprehend the extent of my ecstasy who hath not passed like Dante from hell to the light.

'Twas at midnight and we lay alone (remember thy words) when first we met, and O the flush of o'erwhelming joy that shot through my heart and set my pulses throbbing with a wild exaltation that hath not faded away.

I need not demand thy love, for that has been given. I have embraced thee and thou hast returned my embrace. Utterly thine am I and thou art mine own, and no one in all the world is like to us twain. Nor need I repeat again what thou hast depicted, nor add my silver words to thine of redeemed gold.

O thou hast not written in vain! Well didst thou know an echo would somewhere be found, fearing only (didst thou not fear?) that it would not reach thine ears in the day of thy sojourn here.

But now thou wantest myself. Then listen, brother & lover. Let me unroll the extensive panorama of my own personality.

1.

First for the account of its growth up till now (for it has not and never will have done growing): At 14 I was a freethinker, at 15 a Buddhist, at 16 a Mohammedan, at 17 a follower of Carlyle,2 at 18 a Darwinian,3 at 19 a sceptic and almost materialist, at 20 a human universalist: these are but rough landmarks. I have been an atheist and a pantheist. I have been a Stoic and an Epicurean, a follower of Plato, and of Diogenes. I have been an admirer of the man Jesus and of the Struggle for Existence, an idealist and a materialist, a misanthrope and a philanthropist. I have been a Liberal and a Radical, a Socialist and an Anarchist. And I am still all these and much moreover.

I glory in my mutability and my vast receptivity; I glory in having no unalterable opinions. I glory in my invincible supremacy over prejudice, my superb contempt for custom. Finality is the only thing that is impossible to me. The only idea I fight against is the idea of fixed principles: against the possession of such I revolt and stand on my guard, for I know that, as necessary as is its perfect poise to the magnet, unswerving endeavor coupled with inexhaustible liberty is the only price of Truth.

I have pondered on Life & Death & the Universe more than anyone else that is alive: but now I am no more troubled about them. If I am to be immortal, it does not trouble me; and if I am to be annihilated, that does not trouble me. For I have so diminished the separateness of my identity that I have already partly ceased to exist, and I have so transfused my essence with the Universe round me that while it lasts I cannot be altogether annihilated.

I have accepted the Universe. Wherefore it has come to pass that I am as Godlike as God is, for God cannot cause anything to happen that I have not agreed to and willed beforehand.

Also, I laugh at the smallness of this little earth; with thumb at the North Pole and finger at South Pole I can grasp it and pinch it together. And the solar system is absurd in mine eyes, the sun and all his planets are so small.

(A word is written on externals.)

Although I am not of thine in birth, yet that may be perhaps be forgiven, for what is a country, or what is a world, in the depths of the All? And is even Identity or Separation so beautiful as Nothing or Cohesion? And anyway can Sentiment stand in the place of Truth?

Easy to me was thy paradox. I answer it by this riddle of mine own, for thee to read: The segment is as circular as the circle, but it is not half so beautiful.

2

Love alone is my master, to him I succumb and surrender. He is the author of all my suffering, but he hath redeemed my soul. (And alas! for the blasphemous scruples of prudish harlots, I have not seen the loving entire of thee; only thine English presentment reached me last week,—selected too by a mild, well-meaning soul who "admits" thy "boundless self-assertion" a "serious fault."—For me, who love thee, thou canst not assert thyself enough.)

Love is my lord and king and only god, and yet I know not what it is to be loved,—did not, let me say, till I met thyself. For when I was but fifteen I loved in vain, loved with a holy, yearning, obstinate love, loved a being too weak for me to reproach. Pardon me that the flesh-wielded pen returns with a sad delight to the thought of bygone loves. And O how joyfully now can I look again at the sorrowful, sorrowful times I have left behind.

I assure thee that from that time to the present there has never elapsed one moment in which I would not have welcomed death. I assure thee that when I was but seventeen I bore poison constantly about with me, meditating the example of Chatterton.4 I assure thee that when Carlyle died I almost shed tears, I, who since my childhood have never wept.

I assure that I wrote letters at midnight to an imaginary friend! To him I said thus: "I feel a large fountain of love running waste in my heart, & I want someone to partake of it; I thirst for someone to love and to be loved by. And will a merciful God let me thirst in vain for ever? Surely not. O my friend, mayst thou never feel such heaviness of heart as I sometimes feel." (O wherefore did I not meet thee then?) And elsewhere I wrote: "O could our souls together climb above this realm of earthly clods and soar aloft like demigods, To watch the travail-throes of Time!" All these were meant for thee, and more I need not now extract.

Hast thou had experience such as I speak of? Hast thou known what it is to live unloved?

With parents whose affection is no boon to me (for without it be accompanied by understanding, what is such affection better, after all, than the beast's?), with relations not even friendly, without a single lover, or friend, or intimate or companion.

Such is the curse of the Truth-seeker; but the Universe is his reward.

And I had steeled my heart to desertion, and they that marked me said: "This mortal has never loved, a selfish satirical cynic is he, whose heart is only a palpitating stone." Yet knew I that somewhere, far in the Universe, there dwelt a spirit in pure accord with mine, strong & weak & high & tender & large & true.

Now dost thou know as much, perhaps more of me than I know of myself, for these blunt words to thee will be subtle directions. (And of what account are words except for the impression produced? And no words ever yet produced quite the same impression on two different personalities.)

And if thou wouldst enquire of evil qualities and vices, I have all thine evil qualities and vices, but I do not acknowledge them to be evil nor vicious. (I have expunged the word "SIN" from my writings.) And I take pleasure in what men would call my personal defects for I can, standing by as it were an outsider, perceive them working together to influence my identity for good.

And if though wouldst know me, as I write, even to the innermost core, go forth at night and gaze for a silent hour into the mighty deeps of the far-off stars.

3

My soul and heart has thou seen, and now my mental directions.

I am a singer or writer of verses or perhaps,—but I do not yet appraise myself. I have written plays, comedy & tragedy, allegory, satire and biting political pieces, a few of them printed! also a multitude of sonnets, with other pieces serious & pleasant, too numerous to be mentioned.

I have written prose treatises on the constitution of the Universe and contributions in several comic papers.

I am an orator and a demagogue (I prefer the name demagogue for myself), I have delivered speeches on behalf of freethought & democracy. I have gone, a Saxon, among the embittered children of Erin,5 and they will not report unfavourably of me.

Nor am I less thine equal on account of my years. I hold that youth has its own high wisdom, that it is fully as wise as age. For youth can be easiest touched & taught & won & converted.

4

On externals.

Here I have recently come as a clerk in a government office. But meanwhile I secretly prepare myself for the task of aiding this people to reject the yoke of my own (I do not mean by bloodshed.) This though wilt surely deem a not unworthy object. Yet for its better advancement I have to play the part of a genteel citizen,—part repugnant! Such am I known, a respectable, good young man, with perhaps a taste for rhyme, a radical too, and tainted, alas! with some slight touch of freethought!

Yet to no two persons am I known quite the same, and there is not one who has seen one tenth part of what I am showing thee. (For I have not succeeded in publishing aught yet, though even now I am trying.)

Here too my fate of unfortunate love has followed me still, for thou art an ocean away. Now if thou wilt summon me, I will take courage and leave all I have, although without a penny I reach thy side (for I am not rich). But without thy word I dare not forestal the course of events. Nor dare I summon thee here, for it is my place to go to thee. And if it were possible, I know thou wouldst come.

Yet it shall come to pass somehow, soon or late. I must behold thee. And not so much to listen or talk, as to grasp thine own warm strong right hand, and take a long look down thine eyes!

——————————

This is the Calamus leaf which the Englishman Allen Upward (Upward, ought I not to be proud of the name?) plucked from the soil of his inmost bosom to send to Walt Whitman the American, poet, brother and lover.


From 11 Great Charles Street, Dublin, Ireland. Written on the 12th March, 1884.

WALT6 See, I kiss this, am I too bold?


Correspondent:
Allen Upward (1863–1926) was a poet and political activist from Dublin, Ireland.

Notes:

1. Discussing Upward's letter with his disciple Horace Traubel, Whitman (referencing Bram Stoker's letter of February 18, 1872) commented: "I have feelings about it but no conclusions: it's so youthful, so green, so little, so big, so spontaneous, so stagy, so bulging with vanity, so crowded with affection, I can only listen to it, read it, like it as if I was eating something I was sure I liked and wondered if I liked, both. Do you see something in the letter that makes you think of Stoker? The same impertinence, and pertinence, too? the same crude boy confidence, the same mix-up of instincts, magnetisms, revolts? In both cases there's the curious, beautiful self-deception of youth: Stoker, this boy: it's the same: they thought they were writing to me: so they were, incidentally: but they were really writing more definitely to themselves. I could not but warmly respond to that which is actually personal: I do it with my whole heart." [back]

2. Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) was a Scottish writer who wrote frequently on the conflict between scientific changes and the traditional social (often religious) order. For Whitman's writings on Carlyle in Specimen Days, see "Death of Thomas Carlyle" and "Carlyle from American Points of View." [back]

3. Charles Robert Darwin (1809–1882) was an English naturalist, evolutionary theorist and author of On the Origin of Species[back]

4. Thomas Chatterton (1752–1770) was a London poet writing in pseudo-medieval style who became a major influence on English Romanticism. He committed suicide at the age of 17 using arsenic. [back]

5. An Irish English derivative of the Gaelic word "Éirinn" meaning "Ireland". [back]

6. "Walt" is written in all-caps and circled. [back]


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