I don’t know if this is sad or disturbing, but at times I really identify with Whitman’s obsessive fanboy love for Lincoln. While I’ve never fawned over a politician, there are a few musicians that I’ve gotten a little unhealthily obsessed with over the years. This summer alone I drove four hours to DC to see my favorite artist, and then four hours again two days later to see him again in NC. So I can’t really say I blame Whitman for collecting pictures of Lincoln and picking his favorites, and waiting on street corners for him. I would probably do the same thing. Lincoln was America embodied to Whitman, how could he not want to stalk him at every possible opportunity? Whitman wanted a united America, where everyone loved each other and frolicked in the fields and talked about how awesome and beautiful the U.S.A. was. Bring in Lincoln, who is trying to do just that, but maybe without the poetic frills in mind. I had kind of forgotten until reading the article about Lincoln and Whitman this week that things between the North and South had been festering for a while. Thinking back to when I originally read Song of Myself and poems earlier in the semester, I hadn’t really considered that. Thinking about it now though, it makes so much sense why Whitman would place so much importance in Lincoln. Here was a man, trying to unite America and expand it as Whitman envisioned.
In class we’ve often made fun of Whitman for being so much of a creeper about Lincoln in his writings. It occurred to me though that one of the possible reasons it seems like that is because Whitman is addressing one particular person through his writing in these instances. Whitman usually refers to an ambiguous “you,” which is often plural. We don’t know Whitman’s true relationship to the “you” in his writing. So then when reading Whitman’s poetry about Lincoln or his writings about Lincoln, it comes off seeming a little weird, because we know that Whitman never met Lincoln, and only saw him a few times, and yet refers to “him I love.”
Even still though, his love for Lincoln that he expresses through his poetry is definitely different from the Calamus love and love for the soldiers he writes about. He seems to acknowledge that he has never been in close contact with Lincoln by leaving out physicality from these writings, or perhaps signals to the fact that this kind of love is different, a reverent love. I was poking around on the internet to see if there was any symbolism for the lilac, and according to several sources, lilacs usually represent early love or first love. Often “first love” gets romanticized and idealized, and putting that alongside his relationship to Lincoln, it seems like he’s trying to portray a pure love for this man that he didn’t know, leaving out sexuality and physicality.
I loved where Whitman wrote about gathering armfuls upon armfuls of lilacs and bringing them to the coffin, it was so touching and romantic in a strange way. Especially after seeing some of the pictures of Whitman yesterday and just the general experience, I could perfectly see him with his arms full of flowers and his beard, laying them down for Lincoln. I don’t really know what to say other than it made me kind of love him for it.