Sunday, October 25th, 2009 | Author:

Throughout our reading, Whitman has been a Lincoln-creeper (and I think that this was definitely solidified, when we saw the note yesterday that remarked how he had seen ‘hundreds’ of pictures of Lincoln). As I was reading this week, I tried to put Whitman not so much in the role of creepy Lincoln!fanboy, but rather as a Lincoln disciple. Although Whitman viewed himself as the poet-prophet, this was perhaps the one man who understood the unification of the nation that Whitman did. And where Whitman was the language, Lincoln was the enactor.

In “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” there are several places that reminded me of this role. First of all, there is the Christ-like imagery. I don’t believe Erkilla. The lilac-star combination actually worked toward the Christ imagery in the piece. I looked into lilacs, and they’re considered an Easter flower, thus their sense of renewal tied with Lincoln automatically recalls Christ, particularly to an audience familiar with pastoral imagery. The star, too, is interesting. Perhaps it speaks to the legend that sprang up around the time of Lincoln’s funeral; during the procession in Washington, many mourners claimed that a bright star that had never been seen before appeared in the sky that day. To many of the mourners, this would have been seen as a sign from God—this was God calling Lincoln home.

In section 10, Whitman asks, “And what shall my perfume be for the grave of him I love,” which is reminiscent of John 12 in which the disciple, Mary, anoints Christ just before his death with costly perfume.

Throughout this poem, the speaker’s tone strikes me as particularly lost; he questions not only the best way to mourn for his fallen comrade, but what to do after his comrade has gone. The speaker mourns and clings to death, to the comrade. In this sense, it’s rather like a servant who has been left without a master, and who slowly learns to lean on himself.

Lincoln’s roles throughout “O Captain! My Captain!” may speak for themselves; although they speak to his leadership in the nation, they also speak to the personal leadership that Whitman sees in his goal of unification. This is one of the few times (if any other) we see Whitman defer the role of “Father” to another. Whitman takes the lower, servile role in this piece, attempting to revive his fallen loved one. Although we’ve seen a change in Whitman’s egotism in the war, his deference to praise is also remarkable; the speaker insists that the it is “for you the bugle trills” and the “bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths” and the “shores a-crowding” (476). There is no “I” here whatsoever; Whitman mentions that it is “our” journey—Lincoln and Whitman’s goal—but it is Lincoln who deserves the praise and the pedestal. It is as if Whitman bows out here, like an apprentice who has helped create but is displaying the master’s work as completely his own. That relationship dynamic alone is incredible, considering Whitman’s narcissism.

In “Collect,” Lincoln’s death is listed alongside that of Napoleon’s and Socrates. Each of these figures also had a similar disciple kind of following, particularly the latter (who, interestingly enough, also has a Christ-like martyrdom). Also interesting in “Collect” is Whitman’s unworthiness; his words “never offer” (1060). Rather than have Whitman create his portrait, Whitman maintains that four others must work together to do so (three great writers, Plutarch, Eschylus, and Rabelais, and a painter, Michel Angelo). It is as if Whitman is still stressing the servile, lower stance here; he is not quite good enough to convey everything about the master that he would like to.

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  1. Avatar of Mara Scanlon Mara Scanlon says:

    Excellent post, Meghan– I really like the detail about the star over DC at Lincoln’s Death– Whitman is then like one of the wise men of the nativity, given a message by the star (“I saw you had something to tell”), a personal one as the star droops to his side: whom to follow: Lincoln.

  2. The star legend is so cool…I really wonder if Whitman really was writing in reference to that. It would be interesting to know, and almost strange if he did. Whitman doesn’t seem like the type to play off of a superstition or urban legend, but you never know; it was Lincoln he was talking about after all.

  3. Avatar of pieruccm pieruccm says:

    I like that “Lincoln-creeper” adjective thing you used…totally right! I agree that Whitman was incredibly infatuated with him. Whether it was intimately or sexually or even just that Lincoln was someone Whitman wished to emulate, it’s still veerrryyyyyyyy creeeeepppppyyyyyyy.

    Maybe Whitman would have dressed up as Lincoln for Halloween (if it existed in the way it does nowadays) :-)

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