Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Course Description:
“The reality, the simplicity, the transparency of my dear mother’s life was responsible for the main things in Leaves of Grass itself. How much I owe Her! Leaves of Grass is the flower of her temperament active in me."
-Walt Whitman in an interview with Horace Traubel

This course is a five week special studies collegiate course designated for English majors that have junior or senior status. Prior knowledge about the nineteenth century American writer Walt Whitman is highly suggested but not a prerequisite. Throughout the course we will undertake intensive study of Walt Whitman’s letters, poetry, and prose with emphasis on how it connects to Whitman’s representation of women and his relationship with the most important woman in his life, his mother. The relationship Whitman had with his mother is rarely examined, and therefore this course is designed with this relationship in mind. As Whitman advises, “Listen to all sides and filter them from your self” so, I invite you to take on Whitman’s call for action and examine a new side of Walt Whitman- the womanly side.

Course Objectives:

1. Critically analyze primary source documents to interpret and evaluate their significance in correlation with Walt Whitman.

2. Explain how nineteenth-century societal views are represented in Walt Whitman’s poetry and prose.

3. Creative online collaboration in order to share Walt Whitman with the rest of the world.

4. Relate Walt Whitman’s biographical life to his written works

Required Texts:

Walt Whitman: Complete Poetry and Collected Prose (Library of America).

Krieg, Joann P. A Whitman Chronology. Iowa City: Univerisity of Iowa Press, 1998.

scanned documents from: Gohdes, Clarence. and Rollo G. Silver. Faint Clews & Indirections Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and His Family. Durham: Duke University Press, 1949.

Silver, Rollo G. Letters Written By Walt Whitman To His Mother 1866-1872. New York: Alfred F. Goldsmith, 1936.


Week One: The Beginnings- An Open Road With Walt Whitman

1. Specimen Days (713-725)

2. Write down three questions relating to Walt Whitman and/or the nineteenth century that you want to have answered by the end of this course.

3. Create a Blogger account and design a blog

Week Two: The Role of Women
Myrth, Jimmie Killingsworth, "Whitman and Motherhood: A Historical View." American Literature, Vol. 54, No. 1 (Mar., 1982), pp. 28-43

Arthur Wrobel, “Noble American Motherhood': Whitman, Women, and the Ideal Democracy.” American Studies 21.2 (1980): p7-25
3. Democratic Vistas p.990-1005
“Female Nurses For Soldiers” (778) from Specimen Day
Unfolded Out of the Folds” (515) Beautiful Women (413)

Week Three: A Woman's Power

1. Ceniza, Sherry “Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor [1795-1873]” - found in the Walt Whitman Archives

2. Chronology of Whitman's Life & Family Origins, A Brooklyn Childhood, & Long Island Interludes in Ed Folsom and Kenneth M. Price’s “Walt Whitman”- found in the Walt Whitman Archives

3. “Beautiful Women” (413)

4. “Mother and Babe” (413)

5. “A Woman Waits for Me” (258)

Week Four: Analysis of Letters

1. Selected Letters from Faint Clews & Indirections (Scanned Documents)

2. Selected Letters from Walt Whitman to His mother (Scanned Documents)

Week Five: Walt Whitman and His Mother’s Death

1. Pages 97-101 in Krieg’s A Whitman Chronology

2. “As at thy Portals Also Death” (604)

3. “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” (459)

4. “Adieu to a Soldier” (456)

Course Requirements:

Attendance & Participation: You are expected to attend every class and arrive on time. Prior to class you must complete all the readings in order to participate in discussion.

20% of Grade

Responses to Prompts: You are required to write a detailed prompt and post it to your blog before class time. Minimum length requirement: 650 words

- 20% of Grade

Blogger: You will create a Blogger account through Google, and respond to the prompts in this forum. You will be required to maintain and update the layout and content of your blog weekly.

- 15% of Grade

Research Paper: You will write a 8-10 page research paper focusing on nineteenth century America (Example Topics include: What are the religious beliefs and attitudes? Describe the political system? Societal Norms? Education and the nineteenth century? Rising Technology during the nineteenth century?)

-20% of Grade

Annotation of Letter: You will provide a rich annotation of a letter between Walt Whitman and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. Focus on style, content, form, voice, historical references. Include in the analysis outside criticism. This assignment is different than week three’s prompt because you are required to make an argument about the letter, include photographs and video depicting the historical references.

-10% of Grade

Group Video: You will create a 4-5 minute video in which you creatively perform/read one of the letters from. Faint Clews & Indirections Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and His Family or Letters Written By Walt Whitman To His Mother 1866-1872.

-10% of Grade

Reflection Paper: 2-3 page paper in which you reflect on the question: “How has your perspective of Walt Whitman changed after completing this course study?” Include in this paper the answers to your three questions that you asked at the beginning of the course.

-5% of Grade

Organization of Course:

Because this course is a short studies seminar we are only focusing on one aspect of Walt Whitman, his womanly side. This course is highly focused on literary analysis and all of the poetry readings from Walt Whitman: Complete Poetry and Collected Prose are taken from the 1891-92 edition of Leaves of Grass. We are using this edition because of the accessibility and ease of reference via page numbers and titles. We begin the course with a general overview about Whitman’s childhood and personal recollections by examining Specimen Days in order to understand general background knowledge about Walt Whitman and his family’s relationship. In order to place Whitman into the context in which he wrote, we will then examine common nineteenth century notions regarding women and their place in society. After understanding the reality of nineteenth century America we will examine the extent Whitman reflects or denies these common traditions throughout his poetry and prose during week two and three. We will then zoom into the personal relationship between Whitman and his mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, as evident in their correspondence. We will continue our in depth analysis of Whitman and his mother’s relationship by comparing the representation of her death with other individuals with whom Whitman respected. Many of the course assignments utilize emerging media and technology in order to advance students online social media knowledge. Through the group video and Blogger site collaboration with peers will be required. The research paper assignment allows students to study the context in which Whitman was writing and foster an understanding of America’s beliefs and values in the nineteenth century. In order to understand the bigger picture of this specific studies course, students will reflect on how their understanding of Walt Whitman has developed throughout the five week course.

Slide 7


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Prompt 1: The Role of Women

In today’s readings, “Female Nurses For Soldiers” (778) from Specimen Day, “Democratic Vistas”, and “Beautiful Women” (413) how does Whitman portray appropriate roles for women in society? How does this portrayal of women attempt to reconstruct the actual role of women in the mid-to-late nineteenth century?

The mid-to- late nineteenth century is often referred to as the Victorian Era. During this period in American history, there was increased attention given to human morals and modesty. Many of the literature written during this time commented on the roles and responsibilities men and women took on in order to better American society. Woman during this period were viewed as the leading force behind moral reform because they acted as the main caregiver of children. Although men were considered intellectually and physically superior to women, women were more virtuous than man and superior in child raising (Killingsworth 31). Since women were considered to be conscientious, benevolent, selfless, religious, and moral, their main role was to serve as an exemplary mother and wife The woman’s sphere was in the household and it was in this atmosphere in which women were to spend all of their time and energy in. Literature such as Catharine Beecher’s The Duty of American Women to Their Country written in 1845, describes how imperative it is for women to prepare their children for citizenship and says that women must continue to be submissive, pure, and domestic in order to fulfill their American responsibility (Wrobel 10). Jennie June, one of the first woman American journalists described the typical attitude towards woman and their responsibilities by commenting, “A woman is not a woman unless she has been baptized in her love and devotion to home and children” (Killingsworth 40)

Furthermore, women were supposed to take care of their body and physical appearance in order to be more effective wives and mothers. This notion is highlighted in an 1852 magazine, Peterson’s Ladies Magazine when the writer describes the advantages of physical exercise and says that women who exercise will have a better marriage and be better equipped for conception and pregnancy (Killingsworth 12). Yet, during the mid-to-late nineteenth century, female sexuality was downplayed. It was a common medical myth that females had to have an enjoyable sexual experience and orgasm in order to conceive a healthy child. Women’s own needs and satisfactions were deemphasized while their sexual duty was stressed. Often in the literary world, descriptive and intense heterosexual love was looked down upon and considered a forbidden subject (Killingsworth 36).

During this time in America, the feminist movement was just beginning, and often time women that tried to write about female superiority and advancement were shunned (Killingsworth 29). However, there were subtle hints at social reform for women written about in magazines such as The Ladies’ Companion, The Ladies’ Pearl, and Godey’s Ladies. At times these magazines would have articles focusing on a women’s right to an education and the legal defenses against spousal abuse (Killingsworth 31). Although females were beginning to see an increase in educational opportunities, the main reason for such reform was to strengthen their domestic knowledge so that they could raise children who would improve American society. Even the reform movements that were taking place within womens fashion was not for the women themselves. For example, during the mid-to-late nineteenth century, there was a reform movement for anti-tight lacing. However, this push to get rid of tight corsets was because of the thought that this fashion would damage the internal environment of unborn babies (Wrobel 11).

Walt Whitman was a product of the society in which he grew and was a part of. Therefore, Whitman’s personal poetry and prose contain allusions to women and their role within America. In today’s reading, “Beautiful Women”, Whitman provides a short vignette-like description of women. Whitman makes a clear distinction between older and younger women and comments, “the old are more beautiful than the young” (413). However, Whitman does not include the reason why he considers the older women to be more beautiful. Perhaps, in this poem Whitman is echoing Jennie June’s statement that a female is not a woman unless she has been a mother and wife. Therefore, it can be argued that Whitman is upholding the traditional nineteenth century view that women’s value and worth increases with age, domestic knowledge, and domestic experience.

Even throughout Whitman’s prose, he includes descriptions of females. In “Specimen Days,” Whitman writes about female nurses volunteering during the Civil War and states, “They deserve to be mention’d with respect” (778). Because Whitman specifically mentions and acknowledges women’s labor duties outside the realm of the household, Whitman could be considered progressive in his view towards women. Yet, it is important to note that the women Whitman describes are participating in subservient and selfless roles. Whitman clearly states that they are “volunteers” and “help”. Furthermore, Whitman continues to make a distinction of the superiority of older women when he argues, “no young ladies answer the practical requirements of nurses” (778). Rather, Whitman mentions that mothers, middle-aged women, and healthy elderly women make the best nurses. Upholding the nineteenth century view of women as caregivers, Whitman describes how the nurses have empathy and a calming presence because their child raising experience. Furthermore, Whitman makes a comment about females and their education when he references a nurse who was illiterate. Although she was illiterate, Whitman considered her the “best nurse”. Therefore, it can be argued that in this line that Whitman feels women have natural gifts and abilities for care giving, and thus do not need to be educated. Furthermore, Whitman also mentions race in his description of the nurses and states, “There are plenty of excellent clean old black women that would make tip-top nurses” (779). Whitman was in the midst of racial tension between African Americans and Caucasians but manages to include and praise African American women for their care giving ability. In this instance, African American women are placed in the same category as the Caucasian nurses. It can be argued that because Whitman concludes the piece with this notion, he is attempting to reconstruct the idea of African American women as inferior and demonstrate their equality.

Lastly, in Democratic Vistas, Whitman writes about the future of America and provides readers with his personal opinions concerning the developing nation. Whitman describes his hopes for a community of men and women who are “organized in running order and powers judiciously delegated” (992). In this portrayal of a future American community Whitman depicts women as having a “true personality, develop’d, excercised proportionately in body, mind, and spirit” (993). This notion of women taking care of their body and mind in order to improve society is in line with Jimmie Killingworth’s reference to nineteenth century writers that wanted women to take care of their physical appearance in order to have a better marriage (Killingsworth 12). Also, Whitman reflects the common nineteenth century notion of women performing household duties when he describes a woman that works as a housekeeper. In Whitman’s description of the woman, he mentions how she started her own seamstress business but then resorted back to working as a housekeeper for others. Whitman expresses his opinion regarding her career change by stating that she “went boldly to work for others”. Therefore, Whitman was in agreement with the nineteenth century way of thinking that women were better left to perform household duties. In this section Whitman also refers to another woman with whom he describes with high esteem and states, “Never abnegating her own proper independence, but always genially preserving it, and what belongs to it- cooking, washing, child-nursing, -she beams sunshine out of these duties, and makes them illustrious” (991). In this second illustration of an upstanding woman, Whitman is expressing his belief that women should remain selfless caregivers and take pride in their responsibility of running a household.

Prompt 2: A Woman’s Power

2. Reflect on Whitman’s quote, “The Best Part of every man is his mother” found in Philip Callow’s book. To what degree does Whitman uphold this statement and give power to women for their sexual, childbearing, and childrearing abilities in his poems “A Woman Waits for me” “Mother and Babe” and “Unfolded Out of the Folds” (515).

The main subjects of Whitman’s poem “Unfolded Out of the Folds” are a woman and a man. Throughout this poem, women are portrayed as powerful beings who control and influence men. A woman power, as depicted in this poem, is derived from a mother’s ability to bare children. The title itself, “Unfolded Out of the folds” is reminiscent of the folds of a woman’s vagina which is the pathway to life. Whitman continues to give women power and writes, “unfolded out of the friendliest woman is to come the friendliest man” (551). This line gives reverence to women’s role and ability to instill values on her children. Thus it can be argued that Whitman is commenting on women’s control over children’s personality traits. Whitman also grants women power over children’s intellectual abilities and talents when he writes, “Unfolded only out of the inimitable poems of woman can come the poems of man”. Following this Whitman includes a statement in parentheses and continues, “(only thence have my poems come;)”. The parentheses may denote Whitman’s personal voice and could be a reference to his own childhood experience and the influence between himself and his mother. Even the physical description of the woman as “well-muscled” adds to the strength and power women are depicted to have in this poem. Whitman continues to give women dominance over men when he writes, “A man is a great thing upon the earth and through eternity, but every jot of the greatness of man is unfolded out of woman;”. Thus, Whitman alludes to a woman’s influence over children some of who will eventually be this “man” that owes all of his being to his mother.

Furthermore, in Whitman’s “Mother and Babe”, he specifically focuses on the female’s ability to breastfeed. Within these three lines, Whitman illustrates a peaceful scene in which a mother’s power over her offspring is fully exposed. Whitman depicts and intimate connection between the mother and baby when he explains that the baby is “nestling the breast” (413). Women are given power in this poem because they are able to establish an intimate connection with children in both the physical and emotional sense immediately at infancy. Whitman seems to be intrigued by this scene because he comments that he studies the mother and child for a long time. In order to understand this intense fascination of the subjects, mother and baby, critics such as Myrth Jimmie Killingsworth contend that this poem may deserve a Freudian study, in which readers turn to Whitman’s biography to look for an abnormal close relationship between Whitman and his mother (Killingsworth 39).

Attention is given to women’s sexual abilities in “A Woman Waits for Me”originally titled “A Poem of Procreation” (Killingsworth 7). Immediately Whitman bestows power to women and writes, “she contains all”. This statement is then echoed when discussing sex. By stating that both the woman and sex contain all, Whitman is giving woman control over sexual abilities. Although the title of the poem “A Woman Waits for Me” depicts a woman in a submissive position, when Whitman writes, “I am for you, and you are for me, not only for our sake, but for others’ sakes” he is portraying an equal sexual relationship where both man and woman are in need of one another in order to procreate. Furthermore, when discussing shame in relationship to sex, Whitman seems to want women to take pride in their sex and sexual abilities just as men do. This sexual equality is further demonstrated when Whitman lists the physical abilities that woman are able to do. When it comes to sexual intercourse and procreation, Whitman describes a mutual need for both the male’s and female’s bodies in order to create a child. Whitman acknowledges the male’s power to “pour the stuff to start sons and daughters” but also recognizes that a woman’s womb is needed to receive the “pent-up river”.

Prompt 3: Analysis of Letters

3: Choose two letters sent from Whitman to his mother and two letters sent from his mother to Walt Whitman then do a close reading of each letter. Make sure you describe the relationship between Whitman and his mother as depicted in the tone, language, purpose and overall content. How do these letters differ from Whitman’s letters to Charles W. Eldridge?

First letter: Louisa to Walt Whitman page 192 in Faint Clews & Indirections

In the letter from Louisa to Walt written on Tuesday November 14th, 1865, Louisa demonstrates her unconditional love for her son through her worried and anxious tone. Although Whitman is forty-six years old at the time, Whitman’s mother is concerned because she has not heard back from her son since he left Brooklyn. The length of this letter also contributes to its anxious tone. Compared to the other letters written by Louisa to Walt Whitman, this letter is especially brief. Although Louisa mentions three different topics of conversation within the letter, she does not describe in detail her observations and feelings regarding these matters. The three subjects that Louisa brings up are the weather, Edd being sick, and Drum Taps. The three subjects also reveal information about the relationship between Whitman and his mother. A common and trivial subject such as the weather demonstrates that Louisa wanted to keep Whitman informed of the current conditions and happenings of his original home environment. The second topic was news about Walt’s brother Edward. This information further demonstrates that although Walt was apart from his family, his mother still wanted him to be informed about the day to day happenings in her life and those around her. When Louisa mentions Drum Taps, she is acknowledging Whitman’s writing career. Her statement, “i used to read some in it almost every night before i went to Bed” (Gohdes 192) exposes Louisa’s admiration of her son’s talent. Also, perhaps these written texts by Walt act as a connection that comforts his mother to know that although Whitman is not physically with her his poetry is.

From this letter readers learn that Whitman and his mother often corresponded with one another. Louisa comments that it “seems so strange” that Walt did not write home right away after arriving in Washington DC. This can lead readers to assume that Walt would normally write to his mother promptly after arriving at a location. This prompt and frequent correspondence from Walt to his mother reveals Whitman’s respect towards his mother.

Second letter: Louisa to Walt Whitman page 194 in Faint Clews & Indirections

This second letter I choose to analyze was written Friday March 13, 1868. In this letter, Louisa expresses appreciation for Walt’s thoughtfulness and generosity in sending money. In many of the letters between Walt and his mother, Walt mentions sending money to his mother and she responds back saying that she has received the funds. However, this letter is unique because Louisa demonstrates a shameful attitude. Louisa admits to buying a lounge chair with the money that Walt sent and compares it to “committing a crime”. Louisa then goes on to justify her reasoning for making the purchase by describing the fine qualities of the lounge. Louisa then writes how her conscious feels better because she told Walt about her spending. The fact that Louisa felt the need to tell Whitman what she does with the money he sends her reveals an open relationship where few secretes are kept. Also, because Louisa writes about her guilty conscience about spending money on a material possession, she inadvertently describes her frugal tendencies and practical way of living. Furthermore, when Louisa writes, “I can get along if you send me two dollars next week” demonstrates how his mother relied on Walt for financial stability. At the same time however, Whitman willingly provides for his mother and perhaps felt that it was his responsibility to take care of her since his father had died.

In this letter Louisa also mentions her daily activities and writes, “i have been baking some bread and cake as davis goes away to night so i though he would probably stay to tea…” (Gohdes 194). Analyzing Louisa’s actions, it can be argued that she embraces her duties in running a household and being a proper hostess. Therefore, Whitman’s own perception of the American female and their roles and responsibilities may have been influenced by the daily observations of Louisa’s actions.

When analyzing the style and form of this letter. Louisa jumps around from one topic to another that could be comparable to a stream of consciousness style. In addition, there are numerous grammatical and spelling mistakes throughout the letter. For example, when Louisa writes, “George and i was talking about if the impeachment was carried if it would make any change with you we thought speed would be the one that would take the place of stansbury doo you know walt I have always felt a kind of sadness when I read the articles of impec…”(195), she does not use standard punctuation and misspells common words. However, as evident in this selection, Louisa mentions that she reads newspaper articles concerning current day political events. Although Louisa was not educated about the proper way to read and write, she demonstrates her worldly knowledge by including a reference about the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. Similarly, as shown throughout Whitman’s poetry and prose, the importance of worldly knowledge and practical experience is valued.

Whitman’s letter to his mother

Writing this letter from the Attorney General’s Office in Washington DC on June 26, 1866, Whitman fills his mother in on the happenings in his daily life. It is apparent that Whitman and his mother correspond frequently because Whitman mentions that he received her letter a week ago. Whitman seems to respond back by answering Louisa’s questions in a reassuring tone. Whitman must realize that his mother is worried about him during his travels and therefore writes, “I think I feel better than usual now for a couple of weeks past”. He continues to ease his mothers mind about his current situation by mentioning his current healthy diet. Also, perhaps Whitman mentions Mrs. Grayson, Mrs. Mix, and Mrs. Cobb to comfort his mother and let her know that he is surrounded by females who look out for him and assist him when need be. However, because Whitman does not describe in detail who Mrs. Grayson and Mrs. Mix are, many readers may contend that Whitman has written about these individuals in prior letters to his mother.

This letter is written in an informal style and jumps from one subject to another in brief statements. A noticeable feature which adds to the informality of this letter is the many ellipses. The ellipses separate the different subjects from one another and make it seem as though Whitman were speaking directly to his mother. Another instance in which Whitman’s informality is revealed is when he gets distracted by Mrs. Cobb entering into the room and quickly switches topics from Han to a description of what Mrs. Cobb is doing.

Analyzing this letter, it is evident that Whitman and his mother have a close connection. Immediately Whitman reveals the intimate relationship with his mother when he writes, “I think of you every day…” (7). Furthermore, at the end of the letter Whitman mentions how he misses his mother by mentioning that he wishes she could be with him. Also, just as Louisa demonstrates she is worried about Whitman in her letters, Whitman too reveals that he is concerned about his mother’s health and recommends that she take things in moderation.

Second letter: Whitman’s letter to his mother

Again in this letter, Whitman writes in an informal tone in which he demonstrates the intimate relationship that he had with his mother. Whitman also mentions other members of his family and says that he wrote to Hannah and sends his love to George and Matt. The many references and thoughts about his brothers and sisters demonstrate that family is important to Whitman. Not only does Whitman want to know how his mother is doing, but, Whitman also wants to be up to date about how his other relatives and loved ones are.

Since this letter was written during Whitman’s time in Virginia during the Civil War, Whitman tells his mother about a soldier in which he is visiting during his hospital visits. Alluding to Louisa’s own selflessness and compassionate nature, Whitman writes, “I tell you all the particulars, as I know you will be interested tho’ a perfect stranger” (34). Then, Whitman demonstrates his own thoughtfulness when he writes, “I suppose you got your almanacks”. Throughout many of the letters written by Walt to his mother, Walt indicates that he has sent money to his mother. In this instance however, Walt must have sent her two almanacs, which act as material gifts that display his affection. Echoing the first letter that I analyzed, Whitman reveals the concern he had for his mother’s health at the end of the letter when he writes, “I hope this will find you all right & free from rheumatism”.

Difference between Whitman and his mother’s correspondence and letter to Charles W. Eldridge

The letters between Louisa and Whitman are different than letters written by Whitman to other individual. For example, when analyzing Whitman’s letters sent to Charles W. Eldridge, Whitman’s publisher and close companion, one will see numerous differences and some similarities. Both Charles Eldridge and his mother are individuals with whom Whitman has a close relationship with. This close relationship between Whitman and Charles W. Eldridge is evident because rather than using Charles’s full name, Whitman addresses him as “Charley”. Also, similar to the informal tone of Whitman’s letters to Louisa, when Whitman writes to Charles he maintains an informal tone. Furthermore, when corresponding to both individuals, Whitman writes about similar subjects such as, the weather, his health, and his living environment. Yet, it is important to note that Whitman’s letter to Charles and his mother were written at different years. Therefore, the content and subject that Whitman writes about to Charles may differ because of the time that they were written. Another difference is found at the end of the letter Whitman writes to Charles. Before Whitman concludes his thoughts, he recommends a book that he had recently read. Although written in an informal nature Whitman reveals his intellectual literary side to Charles. This literary critic side of Walt Whitman is not seen in the two letters written to Louisa. Also, Whitman does not use the affectionate term “dear” to conclude his letters to Charles as he did in his mother’s letters where he wrote, “Mother dear”. This small difference demonstrates that although both Charles and his mother had a close relationship to Walt, his mother was a respected older figure while Charles was a friendly companion

Prompt 4: Walt Whitman and His Mother’s Death

In Joann P. Krieg’s A Whitman Chronology she includes a description given by one of Walt Whitman’s friends describing Whitman at side of his mother’s coffin, and she writes, “He was bent over his cane, both hands clasped upon it, and from time to time he would lift it and bring it down with a heavy thud on the floor…he had sat there all thought the previous night” (Krieg 99). Also, Whitman himself declared that his mother’s death was, “the great dark cloud of my life”(Krieg 99).

After reflecting on these two statements and completing today’s reading, what similarities and differences do you see in the way Whitman portrays the death of his mother in “As at thy Portals Also Death” as opposed to the death of Abraham Lincoln in “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” and the death of a Civil War Soldier in “Adieu to a Soldier”.

Louisa Van Velsor was seventy eight years old when she died on May 23, 1873. At the same time however, Walt Whitman was also failing in health and recognized his own mortality. In fact, eight days prior to Louisa’s death, Whitman redid his will and left his property to his mother in a trust for Edward, and he left Peter Doyle a silver watch and eighty nine dollars (Krieg 98). Therefore, the context in which Whitman wrote “As at they Portals Also Death” is different than his other two poems, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” and “Adieu to a Soldier”. Furthermore, his mother, President Abraham Lincoln, and the soldier died from different circumstances. Whitman’s mother would have been considered old at the time of her death and passed away due to illnesses. On the other hand, Lincoln’s death was due to an assassination and therefore sudden. Meanwhile, Whitman witnessed soldiers dying all of the time during his years in Virginia, and therefore a soldier’s death would have been expected and common.

Nevertheless, despite the difference in context in which these poems were written and the circumstances in which these individuals died, these poems all recognize and pay tribute to the deceased. The mere fact that Whitman used these individuals as subjects of his poetry reveals how he memorialized the dead through the written word. In “Adieu to a Soldier” Whitman’s pays tribute to the soldier by describing soldiers’ hearts as “brave and manly”. Also, in “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” Whitman explicitly states his feelings of misery and writes, “I moun’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring”. In addition when writing about his mother’s death, Whitman pays tribute to her by setting a tombstone. Therefore, all of three of these poems could be considered laments.

On the other hand, Whitman’s lament to his mother is written in a more personalized tone than the poem about Lincoln’s death and the soldier’s death. Whitman’s intimate relationship with his mother is displayed through his actions. In a nonsexual way, Whitman “kisses convulsively” his mother’s lips and cheeks. The close proximity Whitman has to his mother’s dead body allows for this interaction to occur. However, when writing about Lincoln’s death, Whitman seems to be watching the coffin from afar as it passes. And in “Adieu to a Soldier” Whitman does not even mention the actual dead body. Furthermore, in “As at Thy Portals Also Death”, Whitman describes how his intimate relationship and love for his mother will continue after death when he writes, “yet buried not, gone not from me”. Death, as depicted in Whitman’s poem about Louisa seems to be a natural occurrence and part of life’s processes. However, there is a religious undertone when Whitman describes the ground that she is entering as “illimitable” and uses the word “sovereign”.

The sharp contrast between Whitman’s personal connection to his mother’s death compared to the death of Lincoln and soldiers is also evident in the way that he addresses each subject. In the poem about his mother’s death, Whitman specifically states “my mother”. However, in the poem that describes Lincoln’s death, Lincoln’s name is not located anywhere in the poem. Furthermore, in “Adieu to a Soldier” no name is ever mentioned, therefore, this poem could have been about any Civil War soldier that had died in battle. In addition, the poem about Lincoln’s death contains more imagery and symbols than the poem to his mother. For example, Lincoln is described as the “great star disappear’d” whereas his mother is described as the “ideal woman”. The usage of imagery throughout “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” demonstrates the idealized relationship Whitman had with Lincoln compared to the actual intimate relationship Whitman had with his mother. In addition, both the poem about Lincoln’s death and a soldier’s death include commentary on the future of the American nation, as opposed to “As at Thy Portals Also Death” which is solely about his mother’s death.