Commentary

Interviews and Reminiscences

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman's Ipmressions of Denver and the West

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: September 21, 1879

Publication information: Walt Whitman's Impressions of Denver and the West 21 September 1879.

Source: Our transcription is based on a digital image of a clipping in Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University; gaps were filled by reference to a digital image of a clipping in the Walt Whitman Collection, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Whitman Archive ID: med.00529

Contributors to digital file: Brett Barney and Shea Montgomerey




image 1

Walt Whitman's Impressions of
Denver and the West.

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What He Says of its Present, its People and its Future.


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Hearing of the arrival of "the good Gray Poet" in the city, on a short week's visit, a TRIBUNE man was dispatched to see him and get his impressions of the West generally and Colorado in particular. At the American House, where Mr. Whitman is stopping, was found, on entering the public reception room, a large, tall, strongly-built man, with a tanned and scarlet face, plenteous white beard and hair and of a bodily frame weighing about one hundred and ninety pounds. He was dressed in a complete suit of English gray, with a wide, turned-over shirt-collar, unusually open at the neck, and on his head he wore a drab wool hat like a Southern planter's. This was Walt Whitman, and he was apparently quite at his ease in his ample arm chair, and perfectly at home in the midst of the varied and shifting crowd, not a face of which but seemed to be scanned by his rapid but silent and quiet glance.

He received THE TRIBUNE'S man most pleasantly, as was to be expected from the avowed Poet of Comradeship, and at a request, readily gave his impressions of his visit to Colorado. He talks in a clear tone, neither slowly nor hurriedly. As was perhaps to be expected, what most struck him (born and brought up on the seashore and used to New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore) with wonder and admiration, through Kansas and all the way to Denver—as previously through the whole three hundred miles across Missouri—and, indeed, from the time he left Pittsburg, traversing Ohio, Indiana and Illinois—but more especially over the immense area of the Great Plains, was the Prairie character of these mighty central States, forming, as he said, not the heart only but the torso of the geography of the Republic. A stupendous area of 1,500 square miles, and more, stretching from Manitoba to Texas one way, and from the Shenandoah to the Platte the other, an average soil of incredible fertility, not one-fifteenth of it waste, Missouri alone enough to feed the world with corn and wheat.

Mr. Whitman spoke of the Prairies (under which he grouped all the Central States) as a new and original influence in coloring humanity, and in art and in literature."These limitless and beautiful landscapes," he said, "indeed fill me best and most, and will longest remain with me, of all the objective shows I see on this, my first visit to the Central States, the grand interior. I wonder if the people of the Prairies know how much art, original and all their own, they have in those rolling and grassy plains—what a profound cast and bearing they will have on their coming populations and races, broader, newer, more patriotic, more heroic than ever before—better comrades than ever before—giving a racy flavor and stamp to the United States of the future, and encouraging and compacting all. No wonder the Prairies have given the Nation its two leading modern typical men, Lincoln and Grant, of a vast average of elements of characters altogether practical and real, yet to subtler observation, with shaded backgrounds of the ideal, lofty and fervid as any.

"But I must say something of Denver," said Mr. Whitman. "I have lived in or visited all the great cities on the Atlantic third of the Republic—Boston, Brooklyn, with its hills, New Orleans, stately Washington, broad Philadelphia, teeming Cincinnati and Chicago, and for thirty years, in that wonder, washed by hurried and glittering tides, my own New York, not only the New World's, but the World's city—but, new-comer to Denver as I am, and threading its streets, breathing its air, warmed by its sunshine, and having what there is of its people, its idiocrasy, and its human as well as aereal ozone, flashed upon me now for only a couple of days, I am very much like a man feels sometimes toward certain people he meets with and warms to, and suddenly, passionately loves and hardly knows why. Here in this very Denver, if it might be so, I should like to cast my lot, above all other spots, all other cities. I honestly confess I can hardly tell why, but as I entered the city in the slight haze of a late September afternoon, and have breathed its delicious air, and slept well o' nights, and have roamed or rode leisurely through Larimer and Fourteenth and Fifteenth and Sixteenth and Twenty-third streets, and have watched the comers and goers at the hotels and absorbed the human as well as climatic magnetism of this curiously attractive city, there has steadily grown upon me a feeling of affection for the spot, which, sudden as it is, has become so definite and strong that I must express it. I count on coming again to Denver."

We understand that Mr. Whitman left Philadelphia September 10th with Colonel J. W. Forney, on the invitation of the Old Settlers' Kansas Committee, who had selected Colonel Forney as their chief orator at the late Lawrence celebration. Mr. Whitman spent some days in St. Louis, and has explored Missouri and Kansas pretty thoroughly. He goes to the mountains by the South Park road to-morrow. Mr. Whitman calls himself a half-paralytic and gets around with difficulty but he looks ruddy and in good flesh. He starts back from Denver to St. Louis next Tuesday to stay there on a visit of some weeks.


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