Interviews and Reminiscences

About this Item

Title: Whitman & Alboni

Creator: Anonymous

Date: [between 1871 and 1883]

Whitman Archive ID: med.00611

Source: Poughkeepsie Daily News [between 1871 and 1883]. Our transcription is based on a digital image of a clipping in the Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the interviews, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Brett Barney, Nic Swiercek, and Shea Montgomerey

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Those readers who posses a musical mind cannot fail to have been struck by a peculiar characteristic of some of Whitman's grandest poems. It is apparently but only superficially a contradiction. A fault that critics have most insisted upon in his poetry is its independence of, or contempt for the canons of musico-poetical art, in its intermittent, irregular structure and flow. Yet the characteristic alluded to which hallways impressed me as inherent in these—especially in some of the Pindaric "Drumtaps"—was a sense of strong, rhythmical, pulsing, musical power. I had always accounted to myself for this contradiction, because I of course supposed this poet's nature to be a large one, including many opposite qualities; and that as it is impossible to conceive the Universe devoid of those divinely musical forces, Time Movement, Order, a great poet's mind could not be thought of as an imperfect, one-sided one, devoid of any comprehension of or feeling for musical art. I knew, too, that Whitman was a sincere lover of Art, though not practically formative in any other art than poetry. Therefore, on a certain memorable Olympian day at the Ritterhouse, when Whitman and Burroughs visited us together, I told Whitman of my belief in the presence of an overwhelming musical pulse, behind an apparent absence of musical form, in his poems. He answered with as much sincerity as geniality, that it would indeed be strange if there were no music at the heart of his poems, for more of these were actually inspired by music than he himself could remember. Even Fanny Kemble's fine deep voice in speaking, had been to him a source of poetic suggestion; and enthusiastic moods awakened by music in the streets, the theatre, and in private, had originated poems apparently far removed in feeling from the scenes and feelings of the moment; Jenny Lin's singing, too, had greatly influenced him. But above all, he said, while he was yet brooding over poems still to come, before he had declared in print, "I, thirty-six years old, in perfect health, begin, hoping to cease not till death,"he was touched and inspired by the glorious, golden, soul-smiting voice of the greatest of Italian contralto singers, Marietta Alboni. Her mellow, powerful, delicate tones, so heartfelt in their expression, so spontaneous in their utterance, had deeply penetrated his spirit; he had never been able to lose his recollection of them, and never wished to do so, for they had been to him the unconscious inspiration of much poetry. Those who understood him, he said, might trace the influence of her wondrously beautiful voice in many of his lines; for never, when subsequently writing of the mocking-bird or any other birdsong on a fragrant, moon-lit summer night, had he been able to free himself from the recollection of the deep emotion that had inspired and affected him, when he first listened to the singing of Marietta Alboni.


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