"Come Lovely And Soothing Death"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Walt Whitman wanted to write down-to-earth poetry, unrhymed and with lines of varying length, in order to appeal to the workers. Ironically, few of the common people in his own country knew his works. However, poets all over the world have been influenced by him to experiment with meter and subject matter. Stirred by the Civil War, he wrote patriotic poetry. He traveled to Washington in December, 1862, to look after his brother, wounded in battle; there following the slaughter at Fredericksburg, he found much to do as a volunteer nurse. In Washington he saw President Lincoln many times and was especially moved by his death at the moment of victory. The result was "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd." Its appearance under such tragic circumstances made over-praise easy. Closer study, however, shows that while the poem contains many lines of rich poetic imagery, much of the poetry is conventional, with stock phrases. The references to Lincoln are so few that the poem might serve as a lament for almost any great man. Actually, Whitman's poem "O Captain! My Captain!" is much more concerned with the national calamity. However, the carol of death, sung by the gray-brown bird, is a poetic statement of Whitman's own attitude toward death. It begins with an echo of Shakespeare's "O amiable lovely death!" (King John, III, iv).

Come lovely and soothing death,
Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving,
In the day, in the night, to all, to each,
Sooner or later delicate death.
Prais'd be the fathomless universe,
For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious,
And for love, sweet love–but praise! praise! praise!
For the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding death.