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Walt Whitman to Thomas W. H. Rolleston, 20 April 1884


I thought I would write a brief endorsement of your friendly enterprise,1 translating and publishing in Germany, some of the poems of my Leaves of Grass.2 It has not been for my own country alone —ambitious as the saying so may seem— that I have composed that work. It has been to practically start an internationality of poems. The final aim of the United States of America is the solidarity of the world. What fails so far, may yet be accomplished by song, radiating, clustering, concentrating from all the lands of the earth, into a new chorus and diapason. One purpose of my chants is to cordially salute all foreign lands in America's name. And happy, most happy shall I be, to gain entrance and hearing among the great Germanic peoples.


Thomas William Hazen Rolleston (1857–1920) was an Irish poet and journalist. After attending college in Dublin, he moved to Germany for a period of time. He wrote to Whitman frequently, beginning in 1880, and later produced with Karl Knortz the first book-length translation of Whitman's poetry into German. In 1889, the collection Grashalme: Gedichte [Leaves of Grass: Poems] was published by Verlags-Magazin in Zurich, Switzerland. See Walter Grünzweig, Constructing the German Walt Whitman (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1995). For more information on Rolleston, see Walter Grünzweig, "Rolleston, Thomas William Hazen (1857–1920)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


  • 1. This is a draft letter. [back]
  • 2. After receiving Rolleston's letter of April 5, in which he spoke of his plans to publish excerpts from Leaves of Grass and in which he asked for Whitman's authorization, Whitman wrote two letters to Rolleston. In the first, apparently sent on April 20, he suggested again "the printing of the English text with the German" (Whitman's Commonplace Book). The second letter, evidently mailed on April 22, though the entry in Whitman's Commonplace Book appears under April 20, included an "endorsement to go in R's preface—& recommending that Salut au Monde be included." Rolleston translated the text of this letter and used it as the poet's "endorsement" of his translation; William Sloane Kennedy then translated the endorsement from the German back into English in The Fight of a Book for the World, 249–250 (reprinted by Horst Frenz in Whitman and Rolleston—A Correspondence [Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1951], 89). Rolleston on May 18 agreed to the poet's suggestions (Whitman's Commonplace Book). [back]
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