I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about why Whitman was so in love with Lincoln (only a little bit of that is due to my jealousy). Between the trip to Ford’s Theater and the reading for this week I feel like I’m beginning to see what Whitman saw in him.
To begin with I feel that it’s important to review what Whitman was attempting to do for the world. In Leaves of Grass, 1855 and beyond, Whitman is always trying to speak to America, and beyond that, speak for America. He spends the majority of his writing trying to document the lives and experiences of all those who can claim to be part of America. From the farmer, to the baker, to the candlestick maker (rub-a-dub-dub), Whitman attempts to speak to and for everyone in the country. Even in Drum Taps Whitman is attempting to speak for the silent soldiers, for the destruction, for the hope, for the war itself.
Different people feel he accomplishes this with differing degrees of success but I can’t imagine there would be anyone who would argue he is not trying to accomplish this (if you don’t agree that’s what comments are for). However, I think if one were to critique his accomplishment (and I’m not saying I’m doing this, Walt) it would be best to critique his ability to talk for America. Not that his words are not moving, or that he does not speak with the voice of a prophet, but no matter how he writes, how he speaks, he is still missing the authority to speak for America.
I feel that he managed to build his authority in quite a strong way, but his words, in the mind of the reader, will always be representative of a man and his ideas, a great man with great ideas, but only a man none-the-less. This is Whitman’s love of Lincoln comes in.
I hadn’t realized that Whitman had (potentially) influenced Lincoln as much as he did, but after reading the excerpts from Epstein I felt an idea I’d been toying with become more concrete. I think that the reason that Whitman loved Lincoln with such an almost creepy passion is because he felt that Lincoln was accomplishing what he could not. Lincoln, although a statesman, was also a poet. Not only was he a poet, but he was a masterful speaker, maybe in part due to Whitman. The most important aspect of Lincoln’s however was his authority. He had been granted the authority to speak for America by America. Even those who did not vote for him or disagreed with him understood that he was the physical representation of the United States of America.
I don’t know if Whitman knew his supposed influence on Lincoln but I think that seeing a man stand up in front of the masses speaking in the style of a true Whitmaniac, praising unity and connection, demanding brotherhood, made Whitman weak in the knees. Lincoln was what Whitman wanted to be. A physical embodiment of America speaking out against the destruction of the bond of Americans to Americans.
I believe Whitman was in love with Lincoln not so much for Lincoln himself, but more for the fact that he saw Lincoln as the embodiment of the ideals he had been supporting for so long.Uncategorized