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This poem is a eulogy for Wilhelm I of Germany, the first Emperor of what was then the fledgling German empire. It was composed on March 10, 1888, the day after Wilhelm I died.

Columbia: the female personification of America. In this context, Whitman suggests that all of America is mourning the loss of Wilhelm I.

salt sea: could be the many oceans that separate Germany from the various nations that look up to it, or it could mean the tears people are shedding over the loss.

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To-day, with bending head and eyes, thou, too, Columbia,
Less for the mighty crown laid low in sorrow less for the
Thy true condolence breathest, sendest out oer many a salt sea
Mourning a good old man a faithful shepherd, patriot.
Publishd March 10, 1888.