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Walt Whitman to John Burroughs, 17 May 1889


As I write (noon) I have not heard a word since from Wash'n but of course our dear friend2 is buried3 & all has gone like tracks on the shore by sea waves washed away passing—

—Much the same with me (gradually yielding)—One betterment—I get out in a wheel'd chair,4 often twice a day—am sitting here by the open window—perfect weather—

best love— Walt Whitman  loc.01168.001_large.jpg 6 | 5/17/89

The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a decades-long correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


  • 1. This postal card is addressed: John Burroughs | West Park | Ulster Co: New York. It is postmarked: West Park | May | 18 | 1889 | NY; Camden, N.J. | May 17 | 8 PM | 89. [back]
  • 2. 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). [back]
  • 3. Ellen O'Connor informed Whitman of the death of her husband and Whitman's longtime friend and defender, William Douglas O'Connor, in her letter of May 9, 1889. The poet informed Burroughs in his postal card of May 10, 1889; Burroughs responded the next day in his letter of May 11, 1889. [back]
  • 4. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889. [back]
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