Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Unidentified Correspondent to Walt Whitman, 3 December 1891

Date: December 3, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02262

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 Dec 7 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Andrew David King, Cristin Noonan, Brandon James O'Neil, and Stephanie Blalock

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Dec 3d 91 To Walt Whitman

Dear Sir,

I enclose a poem "Thanatos"—It has never been published and is the expression of a young Lady's conception of death Is it asking too much for a line from you who must know its merits perhaps better than others who have not the poet sense of appreciation —If it pleases you and is worth your while—will you acknowledge the source to

Miss Helen J. Holcombe1
211. West 69th St New York.

Your Most truly
A Friend—of H.J.H.


A Minstrel, straying from the courts of God,
Who sings of other lands, and fairer Climes,
Soft Skies of blues; olives and limes
Live all-days in those far off Climes
An Gilead minstrel he, an alien God,
Whose strange song sways as half remembered chimes
Of bells will flood the dreariness drowsy Dark
Deep in the night or mother-given rhymes
Will creep to mind, and stir up happy tears.

A fair–strange Minstrel he; his exiled feet
Soft tread the Earth. Men fear the song he sings,
So pure the harmony it brings,
Discordant with their own it rings.
Oft-times upon his path, a Life he'll meet!
With harp unstrung—he slights not slaves, nor kings—
But tunes its plaint to some diviner key.
Then by one gracious hand-sweep oe'r the strings
Melodiously the soul sends God-ward—free—

Helen J. Holcombe—1891.

As yet we have no information about this person.


1. Helen J. Holcombe was the author of at least one poetry collection, A Rose of Yesterday (privately printed, New York, 1894). Her poems were reprinted in newspapers and one of her poems, "Sunlight," was set to music by American composer Harriet Ware (1877–1962). A feature on Holcombe in the "General Gossip of Authors and Writers" column claims that she was the daughter of an Episcopal clergyman and taught herself to read at the age of four (Current Literature 17.2 [February 1895], 106–107). The feature also reveals that Holcombe graduated with highest honors from New York's Workingman's School, where she studied kindergarten education. She went on to be a private tutor and writer of children's stories. [back]


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