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Thomas W. H. Rolleston to Walt Whitman, 5 April 1884

 loc_af.01055_large.jpg My dear Master

I have to tell you that the plan of the translations from L. of G. which I am at work on is about completed, & the actual work will be so in a few days. I have begun working at my translation with a German friend who is fully competent to help & has holidays at present, which will permit him to give his whole time.2 I propose to bring out the following poems—Starting from Paumanok—Song of Myself—The Body Electric—Open Road—Brooklyn Ferry—The Answerer—Passage to India—Faces—The Square Deific—Out of the Cradle, probably in the above order.3

I have done  loc_af.01056_large.jpg a number of the shorter poems too & think of putting one short poem after each long one; where possible, one which should illustrate or illuminate something in the longer one. The whole would come to about 130 pages in the German, & I would put a short preface before the poems. Rather tempted to add notes as well, to light up passages which cost me much mental toil to get a little clear to myself, but I shall resist this temptation, for I know that it is much better that readers should go through this toil for themselves, & if they don't choose to do it, then  loc_af.01057_large.jpg it is little good that any amount of notes would do them! Of course all the poems given will be rendered as faithfully & completely as language permits of. I suppose I might say that you have authorized the translation? I shan't let my own name appear, lest the fact of my being a foreigner might prejudice people against the translation.

Of course if you have anything to amend or object to in the above plan I should alter it in accordance with your wishes.

We have glorious spring weather now—green leaves bursting out everywhere. What a wonderful miracle this yearly  loc_af.01058_large.jpg resurrection is!

We are going home (Ireland) as soon as I have seen the L. of G. fairly afloat.—Autumn? Mean to live in the country where perhaps I shall try a little farming—literature not going to be given up either.

By the way—what sort of title would do for the book? 'Selected Poems from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass'? or better, 'Translations from W.W.'s L. of G.' Or one might indeed put simply 'Leaves of Grass', for your successive enlarged editions all bore that name, & I hope that gradually this work of mine will expand till your whole book is fully rendered in it.

Goodbye. T. W. Rolleston.

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. The date must be 1884, for in 1883 the translation had not yet progressed that far and, later in 1884, Rolleston informed Whitman that he had difficulties in finding a German publisher for his translation of Leaves of Grass. See the letters from Rolleston to Whitman of May 5, 1884 and of September 9, 1884. [back]
  • 2. Obviously not Karl Knortz, who lived in the United States and whom Rolleston had only recently approached by sending a copy of his own translation of "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking"; see the letter from Rolleston to Whitman of January 1, 1884. [back]
  • 3. In the final version of Grashalme, translations of all these poems are included with the exception of "The Answerer," which, as "Lied des Antwortenden," had previously appeared in Ueber Wordsworth und Walt Whitman (Dresden: Carl Tittmann, 1883), 61–68. [back]
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