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Walt Whitman to William D. O'Connor, September (?) 1866

I assume that Poetry in America needs to be entirely recreated. On examining with anything like deep analysis what now prevails in the United States, the whole mass of current poetical works, long and short, consists either of the poetry of an elegantly weak sentimentalism, at bottom nothing but maudlin puerilities, more or less musical in verbiage, arising out of a life of depression and enervation, and producing depression and enervation as their result;—or else that class of poetry, plays, &c, of which the foundation is feudalism, with its ideas of lords and ladies, its imported standards of gentility, and the manners of European high-life-below-stairs in every line and verse. Such to me is the existing condition of poetry; such the product of the poets and poems of the time. To me, nothing can be more utterly contemptible. Instead of mighty and vital breezes, proportionate to our continent, with its powerful races of men, its tremendous historic events, its great oceans, its mountains and its illimitable prairies, I find a few little silly fans languidly moved by shrunken fingers. [My ambition is] to give something to our literature which will be our own; with neither foreign spirit, nor imagery nor form, but adapted to our case, grown out of our associations, boldly portraying the West, strengthening and intensifying the national soul, and finding the entire fountains of its birth and growth in our own country.1


  • 1. Sometime during 1866, O'Connor sent to Moncure D. Conway a "Memoranda" (Yale), in which he quoted from Whitman's letter, and commented on the poet's life and works. Conway used this material in his article "Walt Whitman," The Fortnightly Review, 6 (1866), 538–548. Whitman undoubtedly wrote to O'Connor with publication in mind. [back]
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