Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to the Editor, Boston Daily Advertiser (?), 25 June [1872]

Date: June 25, 1872

Whitman Archive ID: har.00055

Source: Manuscripts Department, Houghton Library, Harvard University. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 2:179. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Kenneth M. Price, Elizabeth Lorang, Zachary King, and Eric Conrad

New York
June 25.

My dear Sir:2

I send herewith a proof of my poem, for convenience for use in your paper, should you think it desirable. As the piece is to be delivered on Wednesday, June 26, you are at liberty to print it, if you wish, in your paper of Thursday, [June]3 27. Of course not before.

Very respectfully,
Walt Whitman


1. Written in blue crayon. The note itself was written in ink. [back]

2. The only evidence, which is hardly conclusive, that this note was sent to the Boston Daily Advertiser is the accession record in the Houghton Library at Harvard. "As a Strong Bird on Pinions Free" was not reprinted in this newspaper. However, on June 27, 1872, a correspondent may have used part of Walt Whitman's blurb in his lengthy description of Walt Whitman's appearance before the United Literary Society, where he followed Edward Everett Hale: "He stood up bravely, but did not fill the entire house with his voice. He appeared in his usual eccentric garb, and with a part of his brawny breast bared and his long, white, gray hair and tawny beard, set out by his Byronic collar, made his head and face a study.

"Mr. Whitman calls his poem the 'thread-voice' or 'the spine' of a new series of chants illustrating 'an aggregated, inseparable, unprecedented, vast, composite, electric, democratic nationality,' to be published on some far distant day in a book, and be a following of his 'Leaves of Grass,' which he calls 'the song of a great, complete democratic individual.' He seeks to demonstrate that America is to create a new literature, a new poetry, as well as new inventions and power, and to show that the poet of the age must sing vigorously of work, creation and development to be worthy of a hearing in this great epoch. I fear his hearers hardly comprehended his lines, or dreamed at what he was driving, and some in my immediate vicinity were so ungracious as to comment upon it severely, terming it 'words, words, meaningless,' while others characterized it, rather more roughly, 'stuff and nonsense.' But at the close of the reading the compliment of hearty applause was given it. The day must be considered an eventful one in the career of Walt Whitman, for it brought him for the first time within the walls of a college and before a college people."

A dispatch to the New York Times on June 29, 1872, reported that Walt Whitman "was cordially met by the venerable gentlemen sitting upon the platform. He then took his position at the desk and read, with clearness of enunciation, his poem, written for the occasion, 'As a Strong Bird on Pinions Free.' As Mr. Whitman himself said to the writer, 'There is no one expression that could stand as the subject of the poem.'" For another first-hand report of this recitation, see Bliss Perry, Walt Whitman (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1906), 203–205. [back]

3. Walt Whitman wrote "July." [back]


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