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Letter to William D. O'Connor, January 6, 1865

Whitman, Walt. "Letter to William D. O'Connor, January 6, 1865." Walt Whitman: The Correspondence. Ed. Edwin Haviland Miller. New York: New York University Press, 1961. 246-248.
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Whitman writes a long letter from Brooklyn to his close friend William D. O’Connor. He has finished Drum-Taps and believes it to be superior to Leaves of Grass, though it is “unprecedently sad.” But, he notes, Leaves will always be dearest to him as his first born. His family is well, though his brother’s health is grim, and Whitman feels he needs to escape Brooklyn.

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To William D. O'Connor
ADDRESS: Wm D O'Connor|Light House Board|
Treasury Department|Washington|D C.
POSTMARK: New York|Jan|6.
Brooklyn January 6 1865

Dear friend
Your welcome letter of December 30 came safe. I have written & sent my application to Mr Otto, & also a few lines to Mr Ashton, with a copy of it. I am most desirous to get the appointment, as enclosing, with the rest of the points, my attentions to the soldiers & to my poems, as you intimate.
It may be Drum-Taps may come out this winter, yet, (in the way I have mentioned in times past.) It is in a state to put right through, a perfect copy being ready for the printers-I feel at last, & for the first time without any demur, that I am satisfied with it-content to have it go to the world verbatim & punctuation. It is in my opinion superior to Leaves of Grass-certainly more perfect as a work of art, being adjusted in all its proportions, & its passion having the indispensable merit that though to the ordinary reader let loose with wildest abandon, the true artist can see it is yet under control. But I am perhaps mainly satisfied with Drum-Taps because it delivers my ambition of the task that has haunted me, namely, to express in a poem (& in the way I like, which is not at all by directly stating it) the pending action of this Time & Land we swim in, with all their large conflicting fluctuations of despair & hope, the shiftings, masses, & the whirl & deafening din, (yet over all, as by invisible hand, a definite purport & idea) -with the unprecedented anguish of wounded & suffering, the beautiful young men, in wholesale death & agony, everything sometimes as if in blood color, & dripping blood. The book is therefore unprecedently sad, (as these days are, are they not?)-but it also has the blast of the trumpet, & the drum pounds & whirrs in it, & then an undertone of sweetest comradeship & human love, threading its steady thread inside the chaos, & heard at every lull & interstice thereof-truly also it has clear notes of faith & triumph.
Drum Taps has none of the perturbations of Leaves of Grass. I am satisfied with Leaves of Grass (by far the most of it) as expressing what was intended, namely, to express by sharp-cut self assertion, One's Self & also, or may be still more, to map out, to throw together for American use, a gigantic embryo or skeleton of Personality, fit for the West, for native models-but there are a few things I shall carefully eliminate in the next issue, & a few more I shall considerably change.
I see I have said I consider Drum-Taps superior to Leaves of Grass. I probably mean as a piece of wit, & from the more simple & winning nature of the subject, & also because I have in it only succeeded to my satisfaction in removing all superfluity from it, verbal superfluity I mean. I delight to make a poem where I feel clear that not a word but is indispensable part thereof & of my meaning.
Still Leaves of Grass is dear to me, always dearest to me, as my first born, as daughter of my life's first hopes, doubts, & the putting in form of those days' efforts & aspirations-true, I see now, with some things in it I should not put in if I were to write now, but yet I shall certainly let them stand, even if but for proofs of phases passed away-
Mother & all home are well as usual. Not a word for over three months from my brother George-the probabilities are most gloomy. I see the Howells now & then. I am well, but need to leave here-need a change. If you see Miss Howard tell her Jesse Mullery has been to see me-came yesterday & has just left this forenoon. He talked of nothing but her. His life is saved, & he will have tolerably good strength & health, at least for present. His address is Ward 7, Centre st Hospital, Newark New Jersey. I was up at Mrs Price's the other night. She is better this winter. Mrs Paulina Wright Davis is stopping with her this winter. I have sent a paper with sketch of Hospital Visits, to Dr Wm F Channing. I cannot forgive myself for not acknowledging his assistance for the Hospitals, by letter at the time. I send you another paper also, as you might like it. I take it by a line in your letter that Charles Eldridge has not gone to Boston. I have been reading the strange articles from the Richmond press. A thousand Satans baffled, with terror, hatred, malignant squirming, appear in every paragraph. Little California is playing around me as I finish, & has been for half an hour. Love to dear Nelly & Jeannie & all.
Walt Whitman

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Whitman, Walt author

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Howells, William [pages:247]

Whitman notes that he sees the Howells "now and then."