Posted by: Erin Longbottom | 25th Oct, 2009

Erin for 10/27

I don’t know if this is sad or disturbing, but at times I really identify with Whitman’s obsessive fanboy love for Lincoln. While I’ve never fawned over a politician, there are a few musicians that I’ve gotten a little unhealthily obsessed with over the years. This summer alone I drove four hours to DC to see my favorite artist, and then four hours again two days later to see him again in NC. So I can’t really say I blame Whitman for collecting pictures of Lincoln and picking his favorites, and waiting on street corners for him. I would probably do the same thing. Lincoln was America embodied to Whitman, how could he not want to stalk him at every possible opportunity? Whitman wanted a united America, where everyone loved each other and frolicked in the fields and talked about how awesome and beautiful the U.S.A. was. Bring in Lincoln, who is trying to do just that, but maybe without the poetic frills in mind. I had kind of forgotten until reading the article about Lincoln and Whitman this week that things between the North and South had been festering for a while. Thinking back to when I originally read Song of Myself and poems earlier in the semester, I hadn’t really considered that. Thinking about it now though, it makes so much sense why Whitman would place so much importance in Lincoln.  Here was a man, trying to unite America and expand it as Whitman envisioned.

In class we’ve often made fun of Whitman for being so much of a creeper about Lincoln in his writings. It occurred to me though that one of the possible reasons it seems like that is because Whitman is addressing one particular person through his writing in these instances. Whitman usually refers to an ambiguous “you,” which is often plural. We don’t know Whitman’s true relationship to the “you” in his writing. So then when reading Whitman’s poetry about Lincoln or his writings about Lincoln, it comes off seeming a little weird, because we know that Whitman never met Lincoln, and only saw him a few times, and yet refers to “him I love.”

Even still though, his love for Lincoln that he expresses through his poetry is definitely different from the Calamus love and love for the soldiers he writes about. He seems to acknowledge that he has never been in close contact with Lincoln by leaving out physicality from these writings, or perhaps signals to the fact that this kind of love is different, a reverent love. I was poking around on the internet to see if there was any symbolism for the lilac, and according to several sources, lilacs usually represent early love or first love. Often “first love” gets romanticized and idealized, and putting that alongside his relationship to Lincoln, it seems like he’s trying to portray a pure love for this man that he didn’t know, leaving out sexuality and physicality.

I loved where Whitman wrote about gathering armfuls upon armfuls of lilacs and bringing them to the coffin, it was so touching and romantic in a strange way. Especially after seeing some of the pictures of Whitman yesterday and just the general experience, I could perfectly see him with his arms full of flowers and his beard, laying them down for Lincoln. I don’t really know what to say other than it made me kind of love him for it.


Thanks for looking up information about the lilacs. The idea that they are typically associated with “first love” is a really interesting multilayer to the symbolism behind them in the poem. I think Whitman’s idealization of and infatuation with Lincoln is less “Calamus” than was his relationship with the soldiers or with Peter Doyle, not just because of his minimal contact with Lincoln, but because of his opinion of Lincoln as the embodiment of the Union. The intensity of his admiration for the president is matched by the intensity with which he reveres a unified America. “First love” is a good way to describe Whitman’s feelings about Lincoln: innocent, potentially unrequited, and intensely passionate, so it is entirely appropriate that they be a last memento of the president.


You make a good point, how when Whitman wrote Song of Myself, America was struggling, and that Lincoln wanted to fix America much like Lincoln. I too forgot this, and it makes sense that Whitman would be attracted to Lincoln’s goals for America.
Also, it was interesting to learn about the lilacs representing first love or early love. This “first love” that Whitman has for Lincoln is definitely different than the sexual physical lust he describes in his “Calamus” poems.

I really agree with you that Whitman’s treatment of Lincoln stands out so much because it contrasts with his previously-favored general address. When he focuses that world-spanning/uniting attention on one single person, what else CAN result but this (as we see it) over the top, fanboy-type of feeling?

Like the other two, I have to say that I really appreciate your factoid about lilacs. My previous interaction with the plant had been through “The Wasteland,” so I thought it was a funeral flower. Obviously, this would have fit with Whitman’s elegy, but it’s kind of one-dimensional. Throwing “first love” flowers onto the coffin of a man that’s never been met personally is so much more complex than throwing “funeral” flowers on. I think this shows a bit of a “pastoral” kind of feeling; even though Whitman was with Peter Doyle, or whoever, Lincoln was the muse that he looked at from afar.

Erin, I am obsessed with questions of addressees (as you will see again in class tonight), so I really liked that comment. Think about how overpowering that “you” can be for the reader even when it is technically diluted by being shared with all other Americans– here it’s like the power of that insistent, magnetic, intense love is coming through a magnifying glass onto Lincoln.

Aren’t we all a little obsessed with someone? Some musician? Some actor/ actress? As I sit here at my computer covered with Jason Mraz stickers, his music also playing, and looking at a poster of Tina Fey on my wall, I, too, identify with Walt’s crush/obsession/love for Lincoln. There are reasons other than physical that we find ourselves attracted to another. Even though some of my epic crush on Tina Fey has much to do with her adorable glasses, subtle, voluptuous body, and that endearing little scar on her cheek (creepy enough for you?), I really admire her as a woman. She’s intelligent, but not pretentious, totally hilarious in both realms of clever humor and goofy humor, and she seems to be a genuinely sweet person. Much of my crush on Tina Fey resides in the fact that I want to BE her. Similarly, I think much of Walt’s love was admiration for someone he identified as a great man.

P.S. Sorry, I got a little carried away with Tina there.

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