"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

"When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd...."


My wife Susan's sketch of Walt Whitman, which hangs on the wall opposite this computer where we see it everyday. Underneath an old photo of her Confederate ancestor.

I know of no more haunting, beautiful line in American poetry,

Walt Whitman's classic elegy on the death of Lincoln

The rhythm of life and death and beauty...a phrase that draws you in and links you with poet and past...

I try to imagine how he reacted when he first heard the news of the assassination. I try to imagine his tears, his shock, his sense of loss. I wish I could see him sitting down an an oak table, light from a kerosene lantern wavering nearby. He pulls out paper, opens an inkwell, dips the pen nub in the black liquid and begins to scrawl words that flow from his creative genius.

I think tears probably burred some of the ink on the paper, and I don't think he had to think as the words poured forth from deep inside him.

"And the great star early droop'd in the western sky in the night,
I mourn'd and yet shall morn with ever returning spring.
Ever returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
and thought of him I love."

2 comments:

  1. Well, this was certainly a special post for me to read. I do believe this poem was one of his best for many reasons, and one of the best in American Literature. I think you are right...tears mixed with ink wrote those words on paper. I remember reading, that when Walt spent time in Washington, tending to the soldiers in the hospitals there, he saw President Lincoln almost everyday out walking - "We have got so that we exchange bows." he said.
    I always love thinking about that.

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  2. I forgot to include how much I admire your wife's sketch of Walt. She really captured the essence of him!

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