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Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 4 September 1873


I am entirely satisfied & at peace "my Beloved—no words can say how divine a peace.1

Pain and joy struggle together in me (but joy getting the mastery, because its portion is eternal) O the precious letter, bearing to me the living touch of your hand, vibrating through & through me as I feel the pressure of the ring that pressed your flesh & now will press mine so long as I draw breath.2 My Darling! take comfort & strength & joy from me that you have made so rich  loc_cb.00164.jpg & strong. Perhaps it will yet be given us to see each other, to travel the last stage of this journey side by side, hand in hand—so completing the preparation for the fresh start on the greater journey; me loving & blessing her you mourn,3 now for your dear sake.—then growing to know & love her in full unison with you.

I hope you will soon get to the sea—as soon as you are strong enough, that is—& if you could have all needful care & comfort & a dear friend with you there. For I believe you  loc_cb.00165.jpg would get on faster away from Camden, & that it tends so to keep the wound open & quivering to be where the blow fell on you—where every object speaks of her last hours & is laden with heart stirring associations. Though I realize dearest Friend that in the midst of the poignant sorrow come immortal sweet moments—communings, rapt anticipations. But these would come the same in natures​ great soothing arms by the seashore with her reviving invigorating breath playing freely over you. If only you could get  loc_cb.00162.jpg just strong enough prudently to undertake the journey.

When my eyes first open in the morning, often such tender thoughts yearning ineffably pitying sorrowful sweet thoughts flow into my breast that longs & longs to pillow on itself the suffering head (with white hair more beautiful to me than the silvery clouds which always make me think of it.—my hands want to be so helpful, tending, soothing, serving my whole frame to support the stricken side4—O to comfort his heart—to diffuse round him such warm sunshine of love, helping time & the inborn vigour of each organ that the disease could not  loc_cb.00168.jpg withstand the influences, but healthful life begin to flow again through every part. My children send their love, their earnest sympathy. Do not feel anyways called on to write except when inwardly impelled. Your silence is not dumb to me now—will never again cloud or pain, or be misconstrued by me. I can feast & feast, & still have wherewithal to satisfy myself with the sweet & precious words that have now come & with the feel of my ring,  loc_cb.00170.jpg only send any old paper that comes to hand (never mind whether there is anything to read in it or not) just as a sign that the breath of love & hope these poor words try to bear to you, has reached. And just one word literally that, Dearest, when you begin to feel you are really getting on—to make me so joyful with the news.

Good bye dearest Friend Anne Gilchrist

Back again in Marquis Road.5

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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).


  • 1. In his letter of August 18, 1873, to Anne Gilchrist, Whitman intimated that his slow response rate to Anne was not indicative of any adverse feelings towards her: "Many times during the past year, especially during the past six months, have I thought of you & your children—Many times indeed have I been goign to write, but did not . . . Do not think hard of me for not writing oftener, especially the last seven months—If you could look into my spirit & emotions you would be entirely satisfied & at peace." Moreover, Whitman informed Anne at the beginning of that same letter of August 18 that the "clouds have darkened over me," then described that since January of that year he had lost his mother and sister, and had himself become paralyzed. [back]
  • 2. Whitman enclosed in his letter to Anne Gilchrist of August 18, 1873, a ring: "The enclosed ring I have just taken from my finger & send you with my love." Although Whitman did not write again until 1875, he sent Gilchrist newspapers and magazines. On November 3, 1873, she wrote about her children; and on December 18, 1873, she said of his health: "Perhaps if my hand were in yours, dear Walt, you would get along faster. Dearer and sweeter that lot than even to have been your bride in the full flush & strength and glory of your youth. I turn my face to the westward sky and before I lie down to sleep, deep & steadfast within me the silent aspiration that every year, every month & week may help something to prepare and make fitter me and mine to be your comfort and joy." [back]
  • 3. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873) married Walter Whitman, Sr., in 1816; together they had nine children, of whom Walt was the second. The close relationship between Louisa and her son Walt contributed to his liberal view of gender representation and his sense of comradeship. For more information on Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, see Sherry Ceniza, "Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor (1795–1873)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 4. In January 1873, Whitman suffered a paralytic stroke that made walking difficult. He first reported it in his January 26, 1873, letter to his mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873), and continued to provide regular notes on his condition. By mid-March Whitman was taking brief walks out to the street and began to hope that he could resume work in the office. See also his March 21, 1873, letter to his mother. [back]
  • 5. Marquis Road is located in London's northwest district of Camden. [back]
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