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Theresa B. H. Brown to Walt Whitman, 8 May 1891

 loc.01099.001_large.jpg Mr Walt Whitman, Dear Sir,

For the first time in my life I heard of you last winter, and your wonderful poetry although I will say your name was somewhat familiar—yet as I had identified you with no memories or experiences, to me, you did not exist.

I read "Some Personal & old Age Memoranda"1 the other articles relating to you and the short poems published in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine. That was my first acquaintance with you. It was also a revalation​ . All my life I have felt that real poetry did not depend on rhyme metre  loc.01099.002_large.jpg  loc.01099.003_large.jpg accent &c; that if all those qualities were there and the soul wanting we had a skeleton grieving and ghastly that glided here and there in rhythmic motion yet thrilled with disgust only.

I have lately read "A Twilight Song" & To the "Sunset Breeze."2

That is all of yours I have ever read, just enough to whet my appetite.

As soon as I can afford it I will have "Leaves of Grass." I want it badly but had spent all my spare change before I knew I wanted it.

I have written sometimes what seemed poetry to me but when I tried to put it in regular harmonious order hoop it round like a barrel, as it were, the poetry was all choked out and it fell flat and insipid from my hands.

I have never offered any of it  loc.01099.004_large.jpg  loc.01099.005_large.jpg for publication but have hidden it away or destroyed it. I was not brave as were you and besides I am not great.

Last week was Decoration Day3 in Waco and I wrote one of my poems but did not offer it to the committee nor for publication. Only one person, a sister, has seen it, today I was looking at your portrait and I felt as if I wanted you to read it.

I do not expect any notice from you whatever in your infirmity & present state of health.

It is only a harmless conceit of a working woman (I am a teacher) My husband was a southern soldier & is dead; it seemed as if it would be a sort of satisfaction to me if I could think in my mind (["]Walt Whitman has read my attempt at poetry")

 loc.01099.006_large.jpg  loc.01099.007_large.jpg

I do not believe you will misunderstand the sentiment although the lines may provoke a smile.

Yours Truly, Theresa B.H. Brown 1408 Waco, Texas.  loc.01099.008_large.jpg

A Decoration Day Poem.

Memories sad rule hearts this hour, Darkness, dreariness, pain Homesickness, leaden rain Blood, our heroe's​ blood poured forth in rivers o'er hill and plain— Rushing on forever. Winds making moan, sighing through tangled swamps; Lifting long matted locks from palid brows. Mingling with groans as potent memories Of sweet hearts, sisters, wives, and their caressing Flit through tired brains. Hearts ceasing to beat—bodies clothed in rags— Shoeless feet—flags drooping—torn; Leaders with faces bowed—hearts like lead;  loc.01099.010_large.jpg  loc.01099.011_large.jpg Mothers, in the distance, weeping for those who came not A dusky crowd gazing bewildered upon the scene. And rising from the ashes of a "Lost Cause" to Freedom, For them the bells ring loud—only for them. And as they turn to us black faces O'er which hope and terror flit fearfully, The tolling of many funeral bells—With the loud chimes mingles. Far away the women of the North wait—vainly—For those who wore the blue. And here mourn we for those who wore a somber hue; the gray Fit emblem of a fading day, a day of clouds.  loc.01099.012_large.jpg  loc.01099.013_large.jpg And in the sorrow and the grief of those sad hours, Both North and South question—"Has the result been worth a sacrifice so great?" God knows. How proud we were of our brave heroes then Who fought the cause to gain they believed right. Sing happy birds, shine golden sun, And all ye lads and lasses old age and little children, Bring the Creator's most beautiful gift of nature-flowers And let us strew them o'er these heroes​ graves of ours In memory of brave deeds—aye—let us cover Deep, deep, these mounds that God himself hath shrouded  loc.01099.014_large.jpg  loc.01099.015_large.jpg In mantle green. And while we lay our floral treasures there And tell again the fate of cruel war To young and fair Will not forget how many bones there are in lonely spots With none but angels and the Lord to mark their resting places. And now there comes floating down on the solemn air a mighty chorus. And unseen hosts glide here and there among us. And some the blue and some the gray are wearing And there is clasping of hands and their spirits stand about us. The beauty of these, our flowers, and their fragrance Are only types of the glory of  loc.01099.016_large.jpg  loc.01099.017_large.jpg the spirit blossoms That they in their arms are bearing Their earthly friends to shower, And still they come, trooping, trooping, While the tide of harmony is rolling But from the Dome of Heaven— Ah! the strains of martial music— How our souls are thrilled, what comfort into our hearts is falling And, although spiritually blind We see not the mysteries that surround us— We feel the presence divine— We know they are near us And we catch the sweet refrain of the chorus "All is well!" Hark! the last note is dying.
 loc.01099.018_large.jpg see note May (?) (what day?) 1891

Little is known about Theresa B. H. Brown. She introduces herself to Whitman in this letter as a "teacher" and the widow of a former "southern soldier."


  • 1. Whitman published an extensive autobiographical note in the March 1891 issue of Lippincott's Magazine entitled "Some Personal and Old-Age Memoranda." [back]
  • 2. Brown is referring to Whitman's poems, "To The Sun-Set Breeze" and "A Twilight Song." [back]
  • 3. Memorial Day—the federal United States holiday honoring members of the U. S. armed forces who have fought and died while serving—was originally known as "Decoration Day." The holiday was first observed on May 30, 1868, with African Americans taking a leading role. [back]
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