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Walt Whitman to Thomas W. H. Rolleston, [April 1884]

[I approve of your attempt to translate certain of my poems into the German tongue. Indeed, arrogant as the statement may seem, I had more than my own native land in view when I was composing Leaves of Grass. I wished to take the first step toward calling into existence a cycle of international poems. The chief reason for being of the United States of America is to bring about the common good will of all mankind, the solidarity of the world. What is still lacking in this respect can perhaps be accomplished by the art of poetry, through songs radiating from all the lands of the globe. I had also in mind, as one of my objects, to send a hearty greeting to these lands in America's name. And glad, very glad, should I be to gain entrance and audience among the Germanic peoples.]2

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 letter containing this passage must have been written before May 5, 1884, the date of Rolleston's letter to Whitman acknowledging receipt of Whitman's dedication. See Whitman's letter to Rolleston of April 20, 1884. This 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" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]
  • 2. Rolleston's translation of the original version of this passage appears on page 12 of Grashalme (Zürich: Verlags-Magazin, 1889). [back]
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