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Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 31 January 1873

 loc_cb.00119.jpg Dearest Friend,

Shall you never find it in your heart to say a kind word to me again? or a word of some sort? Surely I must have written what displeased you very much that you should turn away from me as the tone of your last letter & the ten months' silence which have followed seem  loc_cb.00122.jpg to express to me with such emphasis. But if so, tell me of it, tell me how—with perfect candour. I am worthy of that—a willing learner & striver; not afraid of the pain of looking my own faults & shortcomings steadily in the face. Or it may be my words have led you to do me some kind of injustice in thought,—& then I could defend myself. But if it is simply that  loc_cb.00123.jpg you are preoccupied, too busy—perhaps very eagerly beset by hundreds like myself whose hearts are so drawn out of their breasts by your Poems that they cannot rest without striving, some way or other, to draw near to you personally—then write once more & tell me so & I will learn to be content. But please let it be a letter just like the first three you wrote: & do not fear that I shall take it  loc_cb.00120.jpg to mean anything it doesn't mean. I shall never do that again, though it was natural enough at first, with the deep unquestioning belief I had that I did but answer a call; that I not only might, but ought, on pain of being untrue to the greatest, sweetest instincts & aspirations of my own soul, to answer it with all my heart & strength & life. I say to myself, I say to you as I did in my first letters This voice that has come to me from over the Atlantic is the one  loc_cb.00126.jpg divine voice that has penetrated to my soul: is the utterance of a nature that sends out life giving warmth & light to my inward self as actually as the Sun does to my body, & draws me to it and shapes & shall shape my course just as the Sun shapes the Earth's. "Interlocked in a vast similitude"1 indeed are these inner & outer truths of our lives. It may be that this shaping of my life course toward you will have to be all inward  loc_cb.00128.jpg that to feed upon your words till they pass into the very substance & action of my Soul is all that will be given to me, & the grateful yearning tender love growing ever deeper & stronger out of that will have to go dumb & actionless all my days here. But I can wait long, wait patiently; know well, realize more & clearly indeed that this wingless, clouded, half developed soul of me has a long, long novitiate to live through before it can  loc_cb.00129.jpg meet & answer yours on equal terms so as fully to satisfy you, to be in very truth & deed a dear Friend, a chosen companion, a source of joy to you as you of light & life to me. But that is what I will live & die hoping & striving for. That covers and includes all the aspirations all the high hopes I am capable of. And were I to fall away from  loc_cb.00124.jpg this belief it would be a fall into utter blackness & despair, as one for whom the Sun in Heaven is blotted out.

Goodbye dearest Friend Annie Gilchrist.

Anne Burrows Gilchrist (1828–1885) was the author of one of the first significant pieces of criticism on Leaves of Grass, titled "A Woman's Estimate of Walt Whitman (From Late Letters by an English Lady to W. M. Rossetti)," The Radical 7 (May 1870), 345–59. Gilchrist's long correspondence with Whitman indicates that she had fallen in love with the poet after reading his work; when the pair met in 1876 when she moved to Philadelphia, Whitman never fully returned her affection, although their friendship deepened after that meeting. For more information on their relationship, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Anne Burrows (1828–1885)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


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