Courtney for 9/27

October 25th, 2009

Whitman and myself have been spending a lot of time together recently.  What with a 12+ hour excursion through his old stomping grounds accompanying the usual weekend hours dedicated to him.  Although my understanding of Whitman as a man has been illuminated, there’s still one thing that I can’t quite figure out: the Lincoln crush.  President Lincoln was, by all accounts a pretty impressive man.  I can see why Whitman specifically would be fond of him.  However, I just can’t sort out the personal way that he speaks of the fallen President.  When Whitman speaks of Lincoln, it’s not with the overtly sexual language of the Calamus poems; nor is it with the lusty descriptions of the young soldiers in Drum Taps.  Whitman’s love for Lincoln seems pure and deeply personal.  In fact, I had assumed initially that Whitman and Lincoln must have been good friends to inspire the poetry and prose about Lincoln.

It of course is not hard to figure out why Whitman would admire Lincoln.  The President embodied much of what Whitman called all Americans to be.  He noted Lincoln’s “perfect composure and coolness.”  Lincoln was also a outdoorsman, a man who was familiar with the common people, had experience in nature, and valued not just academic knowledge but more importantly common logic and reasoning.  His physical stature also caught Whitman’s attention.  A tall and burly man, he resembled the ideals of what Whitman thought a man should look like.  Lincoln was a new embodiment of the great poet who would come to save the nation.

As much as I hate to admit it, I can’t help but feel that Lincoln’s love for Whitman dims a bit in comparison to his other descriptions of love for different people.  Whitman really admired Lincoln as a man and as the President, and although he crafted some powerful prose in tribute to Lincoln, I have trouble equating it to some of his other descriptions of love and admiration.  In Calamus, Whitman spoke brazenly of sex and physical attraction.  Whitman spoke intimately of relations with both men and women in a way that he only could by drawing from personal experience.  In class we have explored whether or not Whitman’s relationships with the young soldiers was appropriate, but after seeing his journals yesterday, it is clear that his concern for the broken young boys was genuine.

When it comes to Lincoln, Whitman’s tone is so intimate.  It goes beyond admiration and in to this realm where is seems that Whitman is imagining that the two have a relationship that just did not exist.  I do not understand why Whitman could not express his feeling for the President without going stepping in to “creepster” territory.  I had hoped that through writing this blog I would answer some of my own questions.  Unfortunately, I am still stumped.

One Response to “Courtney for 9/27”

  1. Avatar of Mara Scanlon Mara Scanlon on October 27, 2009 12:00 pm

    I’ll be curious to hear what you thought of the Epstein reading, which sort of speculatively imagines the magnetic attraction of these two (in ways a bit more beautiful than DW’s phrase “eye sex”). This is a very interesting post to me, because I was thinking as I reread the poems for today– and even the lecture, where Lincoln is weirdly abstract, honestly– that Lincoln is not intimately ADDRESSED the way I want him to be to reinforce my (constructed?) sense of this love.

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