Weekly Whitman: “Walt Whitman on the Death of President Lincoln”

Walt Whitman wrote a great deal of prose as well as poetry. He went back to Lincoln’s assassination many times in both genres. This comes from Specimen Days, published later in Whitman’s life.


April 16, ’65.—I FIND in my notes of the time, this passage on the death of Abraham Lincoln: He leaves for America’s history and biography, so far, not only its most dramatic reminiscence—he leaves, in my opinion, the greatest, best, most characteristic, artistic, moral personality. Not but that he had faults, and show’d them in the Presidency; but honesty, goodness, shrewdness, conscience, and (a new virtue, unknown to other lands, and hardly yet really known here, but the foundation and tie of all, as the future will grandly develop,) UNIONISM, in its truest and amplest sense, form’d the hard-pan of his character. These he seal’d with his life. The tragic splendor of his death, purging, illuminating all, throws round his form, his head, an aureole that will remain and will grow brighter through time, while history lives, and love of country lasts. By many has this Union been help’d; but if one name, one man, must be pick’d out, he, most of all, is the conservator of it, to the future. He was assassinated—but the Union is not assassinated—ca ira! One falls, and another falls. The soldier drops, sinks like a wave—but the ranks of the ocean eternally press on. Death does its work, obliterates literates a hundred, a thousand—President, general, captain, private—but the Nation is immortal.

About Meg Groeling

CW Historian
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2 Responses to Weekly Whitman: “Walt Whitman on the Death of President Lincoln”

  1. Powerful prose from a true patriot about a true patriot.

  2. nygiant1952 says:

    I always was moved by, Oh Captain, My Captain

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