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Walt Whitman to John Fitzgerald Lee, 20 December 1881

 yal.00254.001_large.jpg Dear Sir1

Your letter asking definite endorsement to a translation of my Leaves of Grass into Russian is just received, and I hasten to answer it. Most warmly and willingly I consent to the translation, and waft a prayerful God speed to the enterprise.

You Russians and we Americans;—our countries so distant, so unlike at first glance—such a difference in social and political conditions, and our respective methods of moral and practical developement the last hundred years;—and yet in certain features, and vastest ones, so resembling each other. The variety of stock-elements and tongues to be resolutely fused in a common Identity and Union  yal.00254.002_large.jpg  yal.00254.003_large.jpg at all hazards—the idea, perennial through the ages, that they both have their historic and divine mission—the fervent element of manly friendship throughout the whole people, surpassed by no other races—the grand expanse of territorial limits and boundaries—the unformed and nebulous state of many things, not yet permanently settled, but agreed on all hands to be the preparations of an infinitely greater future—the fact that both peoples have their independent and leading positions to hold, keep, and if necessary fight for, against the rest of the world—the deathless aspirations at the inmost centre of each great community, so vehement, so mysterious, so abysmic—are certainly features you Russians and we Americans possess in common.

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And as my dearest dream is for an internationality of poems and poets binding the lands of the earth closer than all treaties or diplomacy—As the purpose beneath the rest in my book is such hearty comradeship for individuals to begin with, and for all the Nations of the earth as a result—how happy indeed I shall be to get the hearing and emotional contact of the great Russian peoples!

To whom, now and here, (addressing you for Russia, and empowering you, should you see fit, to put the present letter in your book, as a preface to it,) I waft affectionate salutation from these shores, in America's name.

Walt Whitman

You see I have addressed you as Russian—let it stand so—go on with your translation—I send you a book by this mail—advise me from time to time—address me here—

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  • 1. John Fitzgerald Lee was a student at Trinity College, Dublin, and a friend of Thomas W. H. Rolleston. On November 28, 1881, Lee wrote to Whitman requesting permission to translate Leaves of Grass into Russian (see Whitman and Rolleston—A Correspondence, ed. Horst Frenz [Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1951], 48–50). Nothing came of Lee's projected translation. [back]
  • 2. The postscript is in a different color ink than the rest of the letter. On the back of the last page is the following note, in the hand of H. Buxton Forman: "Sent to | Dr. J. Fitzgerald Lee, | M.A." [back]
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