Allison for Oct. 27

To express oneself so freely, so eloquently, and in such detail denotes someone who is self aware. Whitman is extremely self aware and fully capable of exploring and identifying the “multitudes” within himself. I believe this heightened sense of awareness, which borders on prophetic at times, is what attracts Whitman to Lincoln. Whitman is able to identify a kindred spirit in Lincoln, a man with a similar mind and equal greatness to himself. Lincoln, however, holds authority that Whitman recognizes he himself will never wield, but he respects and almost vicariously lives through Lincoln’s great influence. Simply put, Whitman would have made the same decisions as Lincoln if he had been elected President.

What unites the men is the “great Idea,” which Whitman refers to several times in “By Blue Ontario’s Shore.” Though Whitman states that the great Idea is the “mission of poets,” he defines the great Idea in national and political terms. First he places the great Idea within the context of war (it’s no mystery what war), then the great Idea becomes part of sweeping statement about unity and equality, and lastly he couples the bard of the great Idea with the bard of “peaceful inventions” (483). Here, Whitman hints the connection between a poet and a President; both the poet and the President, though one undoubtedly more powerful than the other, can have equally as great Ideas. He takes this poetical/political comparison one step further by asserting, “these States are the amplest poem” (471), describing the potential for great unity within the Nation, which was, of course, Lincoln’s primary objective. Similarly, both men look at the “Big Picture,” look toward the future, as motivation. Whitman writes, “O days of the future I believe in you” (474), which mirrors in a more concise, poetic way Lincoln’s closing words in the Gettysburg Address: “that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Lincoln’s use of the future tense and words like “new birth” are no accident, both Whitman and Lincoln saw past the grim present and towards a brighter future, knowing well that the war was justified.

Though our Good Grey Poet most certainly felt connected with Lincoln, I doubt the two could have ever been friends; not because of their differing status in society, but because Walt Whitman placed Lincoln on a higher plane of existence than himself, almost deifying him. Countless times in both his poetry and prose, Whitman refers to Lincoln as a martyr, which perhaps he was, but Whitman elevates Lincoln’s martyrdom to hyperbolic, Christ-like proportions. In “This Dust Was Once The Man,” Whitman describes the South’s attempted succession from the Union as, “the foulest crime in history known in any land or age” (468), and that Lincoln saved, single-handedly, the Union from this most heinous injustice.  Aside from the ridiculousness of the first assertion (I mean, come on, the Spanish Inquisition was much worse), Whitman has made Lincoln the savior of Union. Even in his assassination, something not of Lincoln’s control at all, Whitman paints Lincoln as the critical element in America’s identity. In his lecture Whitman drives this point home over and over again: “strange (is it not?) that battles, martyrs, agonies, blood, even assassination, should so condense– perhaps only really, lastingly condense– a Nationality” (1070). Lincoln, like Christ in Christianity, becomes the fountainhead of a new nation– the first great Martyr Chief, as Whitman calls him.

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to pinpoint the bond between Whitman and Lincoln. However, I think the love Whitman feels for him is far deeper than the “crush” we joke about in class (even though Whitman likes Lincoln’s tan face quite a bit). Whitman recognized that he himself was a great man and in Lincoln he saw another great man, and maybe that’s all there is to it.

  1. #1 by Darrel Blaine Ford on October 26, 2009 - 8:04 am

    Camerada, I have been a student of Whitman for 7 decades & a personator of the Good Gray Poet for 25 years. I read everything I can find about Walt, ie. how he looked & sounded to his contemporaries-the better to portray him. Last Sunday I was honored to channel Walt at an impressive funeral for Edgar Allan Poe in Baltimore. I fashioned a eulogy for Walt to deliver using various quotes from Walt’s journalism & biograhical writings (they met when Poe was a well known editor & Walt was an inexperienced tyro journalist in 1843. What I would like to have from you is a description of Walt’s eyeglasses. One of his few vanities was his love affair with the camera, but he was never photographed wearing specs. I have known that he wore them but have never read a description or seen a photo of them. Regards, Darrel/Walt

  2. #2 by Darrel Blaine Ford on October 26, 2009 - 9:50 am

    In response to another earlier blog concerning Walt & family. Walt truly loved his mother & siblings. His relationship with his father was problematical. There is considerable evidence that his father was one of those bitter, disappointed, bright men, denied an education, who live submerged in the common herd, without the consoling friendships of educated, original thinking equals. Walter Sr. was said by Walt to have associated with that brilliant, founding father, Thomas Paine. Paine is not honored in the lands, whose successful revolutions were facilitated by his pen & brilliant analysis, the US & France. Tho honored & esteemed by Washington, Jefferson & with reservations by Adams, as America drifted from the “Enlightenment” deism into the waves of dim Christian revivalism, it was encouraged to revile Paine as a “dirty little atheist” (Theodore Roosevelt’s characterization or character assassination). To get back to Walt & family. He wrote lovingly about his family in early short stories. He was the kindly father figure to his younger siblings, in contrast to Waltr Sr., a harsh, probaly alcoholic, father. Walt’s comments, written down by the faithful, son figure, amanuemsis, and disciple, Horace Traubel, breathe his love for his family & the extant correspondance with them further attests to his love & devotion. During the Civil War, he pulled every string in Washington, to get brother George exchanged. With help from future President Garfield, , Walt got him released from Libby Prison, Richmond, VA in time to save him from death by disease & starvation. In his old age Walt used money from wealthy, British & American admirers designed to provide a country, home removed from the ghastly heat & disease of Camden summers, to build a mausoleum at Harley Cemetary, so that six, farflung family members could be joined in death. Walt had a family that he treasured. By the way, Walt unlike his father, tho he was also denied much of an education, became an autodidact & rather than rejecting, his plebian acquaintances, & later the sick & wounded soldiers, languishing in the horrible military hospitals, found a basis for friendship, unsullied by condescension, with ignorant working men & farm boys, the great unwashed. Few of those men & women knew that he was a literary man. He was so genuine a person that he could relate to them as well as to the haute monde & the likes of Emerson, Thoreau, & an Oscar Wilde.

  3. Avatar of abcwhitman

    #3 by abcwhitman on October 26, 2009 - 2:02 pm

    I will not have pictures of his glasses on my blog b/c I don’t own a camera, but I know many of my “comrades” will on their blogs. You can find these blogs via:

    Look for posts titled “D.C. Field Trip” and the like.

  4. Avatar of admin

    #4 by admin on October 26, 2009 - 2:14 pm

    Shut the front door, you have a Whitman impersonator commenting on your blog? FTW!

  5. Avatar of meghanedwards

    #5 by meghanedwards on October 27, 2009 - 12:06 am

    I have several pictures of the eyeglasses; I’ll have them posted by Wednesday or Thursday. I think that being a Whitman impersonator=the coolest job in the world.

  6. Avatar of Mara Scanlon

    #6 by Mara Scanlon on October 27, 2009 - 12:06 pm

    Amen, Meg. You can borrow the beard and give it a go whenever you want. Welcome, Mr. Ford!

    Allison, I don’t want you to be too bitter when I tell you that “By Blue Ontario’s Shore” was not assigned. But contain your irritation at your needy boyfriend since you ended up doing an interesting intertextual reading with it!
    p.s. I think the “foulest crime” is slavery, actually.

  7. Avatar of abcwhitman

    #7 by abcwhitman on October 27, 2009 - 1:03 pm

    Well, crap.

  8. Avatar of Erin Longbottom

    #8 by Erin Longbottom on October 27, 2009 - 3:53 pm

    I think we have generally come to the same conclusion about the Whitman/Lincoln relationship. I was also thinking about the fact that plenty of other people probably felt the same way about Lincoln, we’re just not reading about them. At Ford’s theatre there was a description of Lincoln going down to Richmond after it fell, and the slaves basically groveling at his feet thanking him for being their “savior.” Of course we don’t know how many of those people were stalking Lincoln on a regular basis…

  9. #9 by Darrel Blaine Ford on November 11, 2009 - 4:47 pm

    Dear Meghan Edwards, You wrote on October 27 that you had several pictures of Walt’s spectacles. How can I access them. If the rules permit can you e-mail them to me. Regards, Darrel/walt

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