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Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 22 November 1890


"A mere improvisation"! But what is the use, dear friend, of writing poems like this1 to Harper's or any monthly or for the people who read such publications? If I know any thing of L. of G., or of you this is one of the most subtle, extraordinary little poems you ever wrote and so far from its being done off-hand it seems to me deeper than the deepest study—even to follow in thought the (double) meaning of it makes me feel giddy as in looking up, up, into the far sky. But what's the use, not 10 people of all who read the piece in Lippencotts will have the remotest idea what it is about—but, along with the rest, by and by, the true readers will come, and you, and the rest of the Leaves, being understood, this will be also—that is as far as such fairy-etherial touches, hints, can be understood or comprehended.

 loc_sd.00093.jpg  loc_sd.00094.jpg

Am glad to hear that the "belly-ache" is easier—hope it has (or will soon) passed off entirely by this time.

All quiet here—pleasant autumn weather—cool, not too cold yet—pleasant driving—All same as ever with meter2—i.e. "getting ready to begin" manufacturing—I expect we shall commence turning out meters quite early in the year and I do not know but this is soon enough—all well and all goes well

I send you my love RM Bucke  loc_sd.00095.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. Bucke is referring to Whitman's poem "To the Sun-Set Breeze," which was published in the December issue of Lippincott's Magazine. The poet enclosed the piece with his letter of November 18, 1890. [back]
  • 2. Bucke and his brother-in-law William John Gurd were designing a gas and fluid meter to be patented in Canada and sold in England. [back]
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