Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: William D. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 23 November 1868

Date: November 23, 1868

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01823

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

Editorial note: The annotation, "see notes Jan 10th 1889," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Elizabeth Lorang, Beverley Rilett, John Schwaninger, Nima Najafi Kianfar, Caterina Bernardini, Marie Ernster, Cristin Noonan, Amanda J. Axley, Jeff Hill, and Stephanie Blalock



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Monday morn.
November 23, 1868.1

Dear Walt:

I can't come down, so I transcribe and send to you the enclosed dithyramb which forms nearly the whole of a letter I got from Mrs. Whitman2 this morning. She alludes to a number of passages I marked in the copy of the book you gave me for her. I told her I would mark passages for her in the copy I meant to send on my own book, but didn't send because you gave me the book, so I marked your copy.

Yrs faithfully
W.D.O'C.

Extract.

How shall I thank our poet for the beautiful book, and for my name written in it by his own hand so near his own! His "cousin" had not dared to ask for this. The great, the good Camerado! The lover of men! The Consoler! The Interpreter! How strange it seems to me now that I should have been so near him without knowing him better! How many questions that I asked you about him would have needed no answer, if I had but have read his book then as I have read it now.

Is it your haunting voice as I heard it that last night we were together, chanting to me that divine song of Death—that "word out of the sea"—is it your voice3

("O heart of love and soul of fire!")4

that has lent to these poems such a mysterious rhythmic charm—such majestic meanings—such sweet and solemn cadences?

—"never more shall I escape—

"Never more the reverberations."5

I have read all the passages you marked for me with a longing, lingering delight—read them again and again, dreading to have heard the last.

How he probes and searches all hearts with his "barbed tongue"! How he gives expression to our most secret and presumptuous thoughts—as in the lines beginning

"Have you thought there could be but one Supreme?"6

—I have many things to say to you about these poems; but not now.


Correspondent:
William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).

Notes:

1. This letter is addressed: Mr Whitman. | Attorney General's Office. [back]

2. It is uncertain who Mrs. Whitman is, and it is unclear whether she was related to Walt Whitman. She may have been Lavinia F. Whitman (1818–1900), who wrote several letters to Whitman beginning in 1886. [back]

3. See Whitman's poem "A Word Out of the Sea." [back]

4. This line is from Whitman's poem "I Sing the Body Electric." For more about the poem, see Huck Gutman, "'I Sing the Body Electric' [1855]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. This line is from Whitman's poem "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking." For more about the poem, see Mark Bauerlein, "'Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking' [1859]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. This line is from Whitman's poem, "By Blue Ontario's Shore." For more about the poem, see Kirsten Silva Gruesz, "By Blue Ontario's Shore (1856)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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