English Writer best known for her connection to American Poet Walt Whitman
Anne Gilchrist, née Burrows
English Writer best known for her connection to American Poet Walt Whitman
Do not think I live in dreams. I know very well it is
strictly in proportion as the present & the past have been busy shaping &
preparing the materials of a beautiful future, that it really will be
beautiful when it comes to exist as a present, seeing how it needs must be
entirely a growth from all that has preceded it & that there are no sudden
creations of flowers of happiness in men & women any more than in the fields. But if the buds lie ready folded, ah, what the sunshine will do!
What fills me with such deep joy in your poems is the sense of the large
complete acceptiveness--the full & perfect faith in humanity--in every
individual unit of humanity--thus for the first time uttered. That alone
satisfies the sense of justice in the soul, responds to what its own
nature compels it to believe of the Infinite Source of all.
Above all is every thought and feeling in these poems touched by the light
of the great revolutionary truth that man, unfolded through vast stretches
of time out of lowly antecedents, is a rising, not a fallen creature;
emerging slowly from purely animal life; as slowly as the strata are piled
and the ocean beds hollowed; whole races still barely emerged, countless
individuals in the foremost races barely emerged: "the wolf, the snake,
the hog" yet lingering in the best; but new ideals achieved, and others
come in sight, so that what once seemed fit is fit no longer, is adhered
to uneasily and with shame; the conflicts and antagonisms between what we
call good and evil, at once the sign and the means of emergence, and
needing to account for them no supposed primeval disaster, no outside
power thwarting and marring the Divine handiwork, the perfect fitness to
its time and place of all that has proceeded from the Great Source. In a
word that Evil is relative; is that which the slowly developing reason and
conscience bid us leave behind. The prowess of the lion, the subtlety of
the fox, are cruelty and duplicity in man.
For the sake of all that is highest, a truthful recognition of this life,
and especially of that of it which underlies the fundamental ties of
humanity--the love of husband and wife, fatherhood, motherhood--is needed.
Religion needs it, now at last alive to the fact that the basis of all
true worship is comprised in "the great lesson of reception, neither
preference nor denial," interpreting, loving, rejoicing in all that is
created, fearing and despising nothing.
I used to think it was great to disregard happiness, to press on to a high
goal, careless, disdainful of it. But now I see that there is nothing so
great as to be capable of happiness; to pluck it out of "each moment and
whatever happens"; to find that one can ride as gay and buoyant on the
angry, menacing, tumultuous waves of life as on those that glide and
glitter under a clear sky; that it is not defeat and wretchedness which
come out of the storm of adversity, but strength and calmness.
I see that no counting of syllables will reveal the mechanism of the
music; and that this rushing spontaneity could not stay to bind itself
with the fetters of metre. But I know that the music is there, and that I
would not for something change ears with those who cannot hear it. And I
know that poetry must do one of two things,--either own this man as equal
with her highest completest manifestors, or stand aside, and admit that
there is something come into the world nobler, diviner than herself, one
that is free of the universe, and can tell its secrets as none before.
A woman is so made that she cannot give the tender passionate devotion of her whole nature
save to the great conquering soul, stronger in its powers, though not in its aspirations, than
her own, that can lead her forever & forever up and on. It is for her soul exactly as it is for her
body. The strong divine soul of the man embracing hers with passionate love—so alone the
precious germs within her soul can be quickened into life. And the time will come when man
will understand that a woman’s soul is as dear and needful to his and as different from his as her
body to his body. That was what happened to me when I had read for a few days, nay, hours, in
your books. It was the divine soul embracing mine. I never before dreamed what love meant: not what life meant. Never was alive before—no words but those of “new birth” can hint the meaning of what then happened to me.
With this just-sustain’d note I announce myself to you; / This gentle call is for you my love, for you.[Anne Gilchrist heard the voice of Whitman calling to her across the sea, and responded]
Ah, shall I ever attain to the Ideal that burst upon me with such splendour of light & joy in
those poems of 1869—so filling, so possessing me, I seemed as if I had by one bound attained
to that ideal—as if I were already a very twin of the soul from whom they emanated. But now
I know that divine foretaste indicated what was possible for me, not what was accomplished—I
know the slow growth—the standstill winters that follow the growing joyous springs & ripening
summers. I believe it will take more lives than this one to reach that mountain on which I was
transfigured again, never to descend more, but to start thence for new heights, fresh glories. Ah,
dear friend, will you be able to have patience with me, for me? (
Whoever takes up Walt Whitman’s book as a student of Poetry alone, will not rightly understand
it: many and many a line and passage will appear to him common, insignificant as a drop of
water—has like that drop of water latent within it, power enough to furnish forth a flash of
lightning and a peal of thunder if only it be taken up where the right conditions for liberating
that force are present. I think he will one day win as ardent adhesion from men of science and
philosophers, as from lovers of art, and they need him most of all.
The childish and outgrown absurdities, the moral baseness in the idea of God interwoven (shaped
on the pattern of an Eastern despot) with the memories of Christ’s beautiful life and teaching
and death into a system. . . . [A]nd that demolition will happen now gently and quickly—now
that there is once more a kindred human soul to Christ’s on the earth—one filled with the same
radiant glowing consciousness (it is a consciousness, not a belief) of the divine and immortal
nature of the human soul—the same fearless, trusting, loving attitude towards God, as of a son,
the same actual close embracing shape in what new and rich developments through the lips of
this Poet! . . . Now Christianity will go—and Christ be better understood and loved than He
has been since those early times when His great personal influence yet vibrated in the world,
and the darkness of His expounders had not begun to work adversely to the growing lights of
What is called Christianity is not of Christ’s making at all, but . . . the idea of Him, of His teaching, life and death passed to us through the darkening medium of infinitely less developed, less great and beautiful natures than His own—minds which clung with passionate tenacity to the traditions of their past—to the notions of a vindictive angry God to be propitiated by sacrifices and atonements; which seem to belong as inevitably to the early life of races as the belief in and dread of something
cruel and terrible, ghost or demon lurking in the dark, does to childhood.
What I, in my heart, believe of Whitman is, that he takes up the thread where Christ left it;
that he inaugurates, in his own person, a new phase of religion; a religion which casts out
utterly the abjectness of fear; sees the ‘nimbus round every head,’ knowing that evil, like its
prototype darkness, is not a thing, an existence at all but the absence of a thing—of light; of
balanced and proportionate development—activities not having found their right outlet—or
not yet subordinated by the higher ones that will by and by unfold—impulses that have not yet
opened their eyes to the beautiful daylight provided for them, but work in a kind of darkness
as before birth, the soul remaining so much longer an embryo than the body—how often even
when the hair is grey! So then is laid to rest the phantom of a Devil—of some ‘power or being
contending against God.’
I speak out of my own experience when I say that no myth, no “miracle” embodying the notion of a direct communication between God & a human creature, goes beyond the effect,
soul & body, of those Poems on me: & that were I to put into Oriental forms of speech what I
experienced it would read like one of those old “miracles” or myths. Thus of many things that
used to appear to me incomprehensible lies, I now perceive the germ of truth & understand
that what was called the supernatural was merely an inadequate & too timid way of conceiving
Surely we must regard as ‘greatest, divinest,’ those human suns who send out their waves of light and impulse through the longest and widest stretches of time and space, vitalizing most germs; kindling and vivifying most hearts and brains? If the poet type is still to be accepted as the highest type (as I think it will) the boundaries must be enlarged to include Christ who never wrote a line: it must be entirely a question of the thing uttered and not at all of the ‘the mode of utterance;’ and many names that have stood very high on the roll must go down to the rank of ‘sweet singers’ only.
I prayed very earnestly,and it seemed to me that I should continue to mar & thwart his life so was not right, if he was content to accept what I could give. I knew I could lead a good and wholesome life beside him — his aims were noble—his heart a deep, beautiful, true Poet’s heart; but he had not the Poet’s great brain. His path was a very arduous one, and I knew I could smooth it for him—cheer him
along it. It seemed to me God’s will that I should marry him. So I told him the whole truth, and he said that he would rather have me on those terms than not have me at all.
Indestructibility... the mysterious and indissoluble connexion, perhaps identity... matter and force
be in vain. However it is a gain worth all the toil to recognize vividly that there is a deep mystery not only in that which lives and grows, but in the very stocks and stones. No longer mistaking our own shallow conceptions for complete and absolute truth, our minds become as a clear unclouded mirror, where in dim and shadowed grandeur some suggestions of this far-off absolute truth will perhaps be
I ventured to say that [materialism] was a term of reproach chiefly because people had so inadequate and false an idea of matter, that matter was wholly a manifestation of force and power;
he agreed . . . then added, ‘You mean that we have a little bit of God in the middle of us;’ to
which I cordially assented.
After all, eclecticism is a fine thing. Truth is to be found complete in no man’s system, but a portion
of it in all systems. It is for the reader to collect it, and reconcile apparent contradictions.
I sometimes feel like to sink—to sink that is, into pining discontent—
and a relaxing of the hold upon all high aims. I find it so hard to get on at anything beyond the inevitable daily routine, deprived of that beloved and genial
Presence, which so benignantly and tenderly fostered all good, strengthening
the hands, cheering the heart, quickening the intellect even.
When I married Mr. Right, I didn't know his first name was Always.