Beauty is difficult


Sadakichi Hartmann arrived in America in 1882, at the age of twelve, disowned by his father in Hamburg and shipped off to live with a great-uncle in Philadelphia. The young man had only lived for one year or less in his native country. He spoke with a strong accent, later described by a newspaper as “half German, the other half not altogether definable.” He was thoroughly German in all that he did, sarcastic and serious, forever hunched under a small rain cloud. And yet he was hailed by friends and strangers as coming directly from the Orient. Self-taught and curious, he made his first contact with what would become an influential circle of acquaintances by knocking unannounced on the door of the poet who lived across the river in Camden, New Jersey: “I would like to see Walt Whitman.” The poet—with his long gray beard and open, flowing shirt, which revealed his naked chest—greeted him by sight. “That’s my name. And you are a Japanese boy, are you not?”

more from Michelle Legro at The Believer here.