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Lincoln: The Real American Poet?

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about why Whitman was so in love with Lincoln (only a little bit of that is due to my jealousy). Between the trip to Ford’s Theater and the reading for this week I feel like I’m beginning to see what Whitman saw in him.

To begin with I feel that it’s important to review what Whitman was attempting to do for the world. In Leaves of Grass, 1855 and beyond, Whitman is always trying to speak to America, and beyond that, speak for America. He spends the majority of his writing trying to document the lives and experiences of all those who can claim to be part of America. From the farmer, to the baker, to the candlestick maker (rub-a-dub-dub), Whitman attempts to speak to and for everyone in the country. Even in Drum Taps Whitman is attempting to speak for the silent soldiers, for the destruction, for the hope, for the war itself.

Different people feel he accomplishes this with differing degrees of success but I can’t imagine there would be anyone who would argue he is not trying to accomplish this (if you don’t agree that’s what comments are for). However, I think if one were to critique his accomplishment (and I’m not saying I’m doing this, Walt) it would be best to critique his ability to talk for America. Not that his words are not moving, or that he does not speak with the voice of a prophet, but no matter how he writes, how he speaks, he is still missing the authority to speak for America.

I feel that he managed to build his authority in quite a strong way, but his words, in the mind of the reader, will always be representative of a man and his ideas, a great man with great ideas, but only a man none-the-less. This is Whitman’s love of Lincoln comes in.

I hadn’t realized that Whitman had (potentially) influenced Lincoln as much as he did, but after reading the excerpts from Epstein I felt an idea I’d been toying with become more concrete. I think that the reason that Whitman loved Lincoln with such an almost creepy passion is because he felt that Lincoln was accomplishing what he could not. Lincoln, although a statesman, was also a poet. Not only was he a poet, but he was a masterful speaker, maybe in part due to Whitman. The most important aspect of Lincoln’s however was his authority. He had been granted the authority to speak for America by America. Even those who did not vote for him or disagreed with him understood that he was the physical representation of the United States of America.

I don’t know if Whitman knew his supposed influence on Lincoln but I think that seeing a man stand up in front of the masses speaking in the style of a true Whitmaniac, praising unity and connection, demanding brotherhood, made Whitman weak in the knees. Lincoln was what Whitman wanted to be. A physical embodiment of America speaking out against the destruction of the bond of Americans to Americans.

I believe Whitman was in love with Lincoln not so much for Lincoln himself, but more for the fact that he saw Lincoln as the embodiment of the ideals he had been supporting for so long.

~ by bcbottle on October 25, 2009.


5 Responses to “Lincoln: The Real American Poet?”

  1. Brendon,
    I pretty much wrote the exact same thing you wrote in your final paragraph in a comment on Erin’s post. I completely agree that Whitman saw and loved Lincoln for his representation of ideals more than anything else. Lincoln fought for a unified America throughout his life as a politician and Whitman fought for a unified America throughout his life as a poet. A melding of politics and poetry is itself a beautiful union, a way to access all kinds of minds. Whitman’s love of Lincoln may partially come from the understanding that perhaps, between the two ways in which these men confronted the American public, working together they could in fact unify the United States. In loving Lincoln, Whitman felt more a part of that fight; his successes in a way hinged on the president’s.

  2. Brendon,
    The ideas in your post are so eloquently written. I agree that much of Whitman’s writing was concerned with representing the lives of the “American people”. Although Whitman might not have personally seen his success in doing so, Whitman surely saw Lincoln’s success in reaching out to the American nation. Whitman, watching Lincoln’s authoritative presence throughout the War might have seen Lincoln as a “partner in crime” someone who had better means to reach the masses. Whitman, therefore wants to back his “partner in crime” and describes and supports Lincoln and their mutual goal in creating a better America.

  3. At the risk of redundancy, I really appreciate the conversation Brendon has started. I think it speaks to a view of Whitman’s love for Lincoln as more of a steady partnership than a one-way tunnel-visioned infatuation.

    Brendon’s observation that Whitman wasn’t elected to speak for the American people as Lincoln is really sticking with me because it does show a weakness that Whitman may well have recognized of himself and his goals. Of course, at least by now, Whitman is so under our bootsoles that the world around us does, to a point, use him as a figure of America(n architectural structures, jeans, beer, game show answers, and other kitsch), if to broadcast messages Whitman didn’t necessarily intend.

  4. One thing I have been thinking about this week reading the poems, lecture, and blog is: where is the body?? We spent several weeks hashing out Whitman’s insistence on the body earlier this semester, and now this dusty, tan-faced, sorrowful, tall man becomes an abstraction of sorts. Where is that wasted, angular, bloody, coffined body?

    btw, Kim Roberts said she thought OMW would completely dig the Levi’s ads. Mrs. Whitman, great post, with careful use of language to avoid shaking up your recent reunification with W. Rub-a-dub-dub.

  5. Freddom Mentor reviews…

    » Lincoln: The Real American Poet? The Millionth Sun…

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