Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Unidentified Correspondent to Walt Whitman, 20 September 1890

Date: September 20, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.04939

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.

Contributors to digital file: Brandon James O'Neil, Ian Faith, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

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O death I cover you over with roses and early
But mostly and now the lilac that blooms the
Copius I break, I break the sprigs from the
With loaded arms I come, pouring for you
For you and the coffins all of you O death.
Sea-winds blown from East and West
Blown from the Eastern Sea and blown
from, the Western Sea, till there on the
prairies meeting.
These and with these I'll perfume the grave
of him I love
O what shall I hang on the chamber walls?
And what shall the pictures be I hang
on the walls,
To adorn the burial house of him I love,
O light and free and tender!
O wild and loose to my soul—O wonderous
singer. You only I hear, yet this star
holds me, (but will soon depart)
Yet the lilac with mastering odor holds me.
Sing on dearest brother
warble your reedy song.
Loud human song, with voice of utter–most
Limitless out of the dusk out of the ceders
and pines.

This moment yearning and thoughtful I turn back and think of that old man whom I met but once only for a few minutes, His books read and absorbed in part, his life, a part of it read of asking about of men lingers about the ferry houses, looking for a glimpse of his face at the little former house yet never seeing him, wondering eager over the names since first I saw or heard it, now learning to love the man the book and the author. I have two photographs, one in book, the other lately taken, within ten years. I look at the engraving in Leaves of Grass, at the gray in the beard at the features all absorbing and always wondering "if only he could know" everything is all light, transparent as light, yet all dark and moody and tearful I would prize above all earthly things to see you and loaf awhile and ask you so much and so many things. I wonder now if you still are the same lover of God and man unconventionally as is portrayed in Leaves of Grass.

I read not long ago in the Century a line "the vagaries of my life"2 This troubled me—is the book and its plan and purpose a vagary. All the teaching of the native inherent immortality of the soul, is this a a vagary. The Hebrew Scriptures declare so, the New Testament writings declare so. "If you love me, keep my commandments."3 If you care for me read my book. I am sorry that the People do not understand, but as yet, the people of the States have not arisen, wait for the fusion of nationalities and the type shall come forth. I hear much talk of the Lord's coming, but all things center on this our globe. I cannot understand much of these things, only of my love and affection this I am sure of. May I call my self a pupil—Dear old man you are beloved more than you can know this is the best I have and you have it. I see you there and my hearts love goes out to you to night across seas and continents, now three score years and ten and soon to be yours, if only America would listen and the young men and young women could see that ideal life: To time, this is your book's dedication

So–long with love

Nagasaki, Japan
September 20, 90,

To Walt Whitman
Camden, New Jersey


1. The writer opens this letter with lines from Whitman's poem, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd." For more on the poem, see R. W. French, "'When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd' [1865]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

2. The writer is referring to Whitman's poem, "My 71st Year" which was first published in the Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine in November 1889. [back]

3. The writer is referencing the Bible; see John, Chapter 14, Verse 15. [back]


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