When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd Questions and Answers
by Walt Whitman

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What is the significance of lilac in "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd"?

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Whitman uses the lilac as a metaphor for both death and renewal.

Since President Lincoln was assassinated in spring, in April, Whitman associates his vision of the flowers with the time when he and the nation mourned Lincoln's death. The whole meaning of the poem is encapsulated in the first six lines, in which the other principal image is presented: the "western star." This, of course, symbolizes Lincoln himself, the Westerner (at that time what we now know as the "Midwest," Lincoln's home, was simply "the West") who saved the nation.

Though Whitman himself was a free thinker, in those lines the metaphor of Lincoln as a Christ figure is developed as well: "Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,...

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