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Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 2 November 1890


You cannot imagine, dear Walt, how peaceful and dreamy the landscape is this morning—the air is full of great, white, soft feathers that come down as tenderly upon the grass and trees as a mother's love falls upon her child. I have never witnessed anything more exquisite. The silence and quietude here this Sunday morning are equal to—they are "the peace of God that passes all understanding."2 It calls up that longing feeling—which visits us at intervals—to drop the body and float off into the eternal stillnesses. Surely that will be the best thing of all when it comes? I remember once when a little boy this feeling, passion to escape into the real came upon me so strongly that for the time it seemed I could hardly wait. But I am glad now I waited for had I not I might have missed you  loc_sd.00067.jpg  loc_sd.00068.jpg in that other land where "it is not chaos or death but form, union, plan, eternal life, happiness."3

I have not seen the "North American"4 yet—shall try and find it in town tomorrow.5 We are all well here6—I send my love to you

So long! R M Bucke see notes Nov 5, 1890  loc_sd.00069.jpg  loc_sd.00064.jpg  loc_sd.00065.jpg

Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) was a Canadian physician and psychiatrist who grew close to Whitman after reading Leaves of Grass in 1867 (and later memorizing it) and meeting the poet in Camden a decade later. Even before meeting Whitman, Bucke claimed in 1872 that a reading of Leaves of Grass led him to experience "cosmic consciousness" and an overwhelming sense of epiphany. Bucke became the poet's first biographer with Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and he later served as one of his medical advisors and literary executors. For more on the relationship of Bucke and Whitman, see Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


  • 1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle Street | Camden | New Jersey USA. It is postmarked: London | AM | NO 3 | 90 | Canada; Philadelphia | Nov | 4 | 130AM | 1890 | Transit; Received | Nov | 4 | 1030am | 1890; Camden, N.J. | Nov | 4 | 1PM | 1890 | Rec'd. [back]
  • 2. Bucke is referencing the Bible; see Philippians, Chapter 4, Verse 7. [back]
  • 3. Bucke is paraphrasing a line from Section 50 of Whitman's "Song of Myself," in which the poet writes, "It is not chaos or death—it is form, union, plan—it is eternal life—it is Happiness." [back]
  • 4. The North American Review was the first literary magazine in the United States. The journalist Charles Allen Thorndike Rice (1851–1889) edited and published the magazine in New York from 1876 until his death. After Rice's death, Lloyd Bryce became owner and editor. [back]
  • 5. Bucke is referring to a copy of the November 1890 issue of The North American Review, which published Whitman's essay "Old Poets." [back]
  • 6. Bucke and his wife Jessie Maria Gurd Bucke (1839–1926) had eight children. [back]
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