Walt Whitman and Abraham Lincoln

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Walt Whitman and Abraham Lincoln

Table of contents

1. Introduction……………………………………………………………………………2 2. Whitman’s position in American literature………………………………………2 3. Whitman’s poetry before the civil war…………………………………...............3 4. Lincoln’s death – a turning point for Whitman………………………………….6 5. Walt Whitman’s four poems on the American nation’s grief…………………7 5.1 Hush'd Be the Camps To-day…………………………………………………..7 5.2. When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd…………………………………7 5.3 O Captain! My Captain!................................................................................8 5.4 This Dust Was Once the Man…………………………………………………10 6. Summary……………………………………………………………………………..10 7. Bibliography…………………………………………………………………………12

Walt Whitman and Abraham Lincoln

1. Introduction

Walt Whitman is one of the great poets in American literature. His variety of poetic works has influenced generations of writers. A remarkable fact is that Walt Whitman’s famous poem O Captain! My Captain! (Whitman 1865b) even found its way into modern film art in the film Dead Poets Society. This shows how relevant Whitman’s poetry is still today. This term paper will concentrate on the influence Abraham Lincoln had on Walt Whitman and his poetic writing style. In particular, focus will be put on Walt Whitman’s four poems on Abraham Lincoln’s death. Differences to Whitman’s former poetic works will be illuminated in short, as well as differences within the four death poems. Due to its exceptional position, the poem O Captain! My Captain! will be examined more detailed.

2. Whitman’s position in American literature

Walt Whitman is considered to be one the most important writers in American literature. He is famous for his extraordinary writing style and has gradually become an icon of American exceptionalism. Whitman regarded the fast developing America as the new nation out of nations. In the years before the civil war, Whitman saw himself as the poet and imaginary leader of the young American nation. He was born in Long Island and raised in Brooklyn. During his lifetime he worked as editor of various newspapers and also worked as a medic for both sides during the Civil War (1861-1865). He published several different editions of Leaves of Grass (1855-92), which were valued and appreciated highly by other important writers of his time. In a letter to Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1855), a well-known writer and lecturer, wrote:

“Dear Sir - I am not blind to the worth of the wonderful gift of Leaves of Grass I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed. I am very happy in reading it, as great power makes us happy. It meets the demand I am always making of what seemed the sterile and stingy nature, as if too much handiwork, or too much lymph in the temperament, were making our western wits fat and mean. I give you joy of your free and brave thought. I have great joy in it. I find incomparable things said incomparably well, as they must be. I find the courage of treatment which so delights us, and which large perception only can inspire. I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had a long foreground somewhere, for such a start. I rubbed my eyes a little, to see if this sunbeam were no illusion; but the solid sense of the book is a sober certainty. It has the best merits, namely, of fortifying and encouraging.[...].“

3. Whitman’s poetry before the civil war

Among his numerous works, the various editions of his poetry collection Leaves of Grass (Whitman 1855-92), offer a variety of Whitman’s writing styles. In the famous pre-war poem Song of Myself (Whitman 1891-92) many critics still see the American ur-poem. The “I” (Whitman 1891-92) described in this poem is not limited to Whitman as a person. It is far more a symbol for the poet as a unifier of the nation in the middle of all Americans. “[…] It is...
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