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

 loc.01823.001_large_mflm.jpg 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  loc.01823.002_large_mflm.jpg 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.


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— loc.01823.004_large_mflm.jpgsuch 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.

 loc.01823.005_large_mflm.jpg see notes Jan 10th 1889

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).


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