Whitman Unit 6
Discuss the Quaker views on war and violence and how this fits into the American worldview, specifically how pacifism has been a part of the American character from the early 19th century. What was Whitman’s role in the Civil War? Why is he a pacifist? Where in Leaves of Grass is this pacifism best shown—and how is it shown?
In Whitman’s eulogy to Abraham Lincoln, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” we have an emotional understanding of President Lincoln that can never be conveyed through factual history—a view from the inside of the American people at the time. From this poem, what is that view of Lincoln? How does Lincoln represent more than the historical figure in this poem? Does the Lincoln in the poem represent as an icon, to a great and deeper extent, Whitman’s views on what American is or should be? Is the universality of this poem something that allows us insight in the mid-19th-century American mind? Comment on this mentality and that of the contemporary American mind.
Quakers hold by the belief that violence is always wrong. In America, this would hold to the belief of the pursuit of freedom. Whitman being a Quaker, this elemental belief becomes imbedded in the poetry.
Whitman’s own brother, George, enlisted in the war. George was wounded at Fredericksburg, and although he survived, this must have had an impact on Walt. Walt worked in the payroll office and something inside must have been telling him that he was paying people to fight and kill. Walt had kind of followed a Quaker way of thinking ever since the death of his Quaker grandmother and a lecture he heard by Hicks at the age of 10. He was already in his 40s when the Civil War began so he helped out by nursing the injured. This must also have had an effect.
Whitman thought highly of Lincoln. In fact, he probably thought of Whitman as the shepherd of the nation, leading us to coherence. When Lincoln was assassinated, the nation was left without its leader, without its shepherd. However, Whitman realizes during the poem that Lincoln cannot be above all other men, especially the dead in the war. How do you think all men are the same and then mourn more for one man? He can’t, in all good faith. That is what the lilac is for. He leaves the lilac on Lincoln’s coffin to show that he shouldn’t be mourned more than others. It is just that Lincoln’s death is a tragedy that seems to symbolize the greater tragedies of all the deaths around them from this great war.
Folsom, Ed and Kenneth M. Price. “Walt Whitman.” 18 September 2005. http://www.whitmanarchive.org/biography/biographymainindex.html.
Pannapacker, William A. “Biography.” 18 September 2005. http://spectrum1.blackboard.com/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab=courses&url=/bin/common/course.pl?course_id=_58238_1.