Interviews and Reminiscences

About this Item

Title: Every Day Talk: Walt Whitman's Story of the Purpose of His Writings—Odds and Ends

Creator: Anonymous

Date: September 7, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: med.00689

Source: The Press 7 September 1888: 2. Our transcription is based on a digital image of a microfilm copy of an original issue. 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

image 1



Walt Whitman's Story of the Purpose of
His Writings—Odds and Ends.

Long white hair, long white beard and mustache, a florid face, with blue eyes alive with fire, a gigantic frame withered, a shirt thrown open below his corded neck, gray coat and trowsers, shoes tied with leather strings, is the picture that Walt Whitman presents to a visitor. An inkstand and pen are on the table before him, and a lead pencil is on the window near him. His old white hat lies on a chair. His tone and manner are cheerful, and he responds to the expression of sympathetic interest in him.

It is now thirty years since Walt Whitman began to write. He is nearer, but scarcely nearer, popular appreciation than when he began. There is something pathetic in his uncomplaining attitude toward the presistent misapprehension which attends all he does. He said recently in speaking of this: "I set out with a design as thoroughly considered as an architect's plan of a cathedral. None of the poets have touched exactly what I wanted to do. It seemed to me that all had fallen short of getting down deep into the appreciation and sympathies of the mass of mankind. Of course, in a brief conversation I can only suggest what I mean. Shakespeare's poems of war and passion, Milton's allegories, and the poetry of men like Tennyson and Longfellow—in fact, all the poetry I had ever read, seemed to fall far short of touching the people of the world in their very cores of understanding and desire. I set out to illustrate, without any flinching, humanity. I proposed to myself a series of compositions which should depict the physical, emotional, moral, intellectual and spiritual nature of man." This man was to be himself. "I had to deal with the physical, corporeal and amative—that part which is developed between the ages of 22 and 35. It is that part of my endeavor which has caused the harshest criticism and prevented candid examination of the ensuing stages of the design. Still I have gone on adding, building up, persevering, so far as I am able to do, in my original intention. I suppose I fail, as many others have failed, in fully expressing myself. The difficulty is not in not knowing what a man wants to say, but in formulating it.

"I am not embittered by my lack of success. It is so different from the accepted forms of poetry that it could not be expected to make its way. I have been most kindly received in England both by periodicals and critics. My last volume is in response to the interest of my friends abroad."


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