When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd Quotes
by Walt Whitman

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"When Lilacs Last In The Door-yard Bloomed"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

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Context: Walt Whitman wrote four elegies to President Lincoln, appending them to the second edition of Drum Taps under the title "Memories of President Lincoln." The speaker mourns the death of the president in language of uncontrollable grief. He brings to the coffin a sprig of lilac that symbolizes his grief for the "powerful western fallen star," a grief that will recur each spring with the blooming of the lilacs. The hermit thrush singing in the swamp offers him comfort, but the poet delays to mediate on his grief. Finally he walks into the swamp with two companions, "the thought of death" and "the knowledge of death." He listens to the hermit thrush's ecstatic carol to death, the "Dark mother," whose embrace offers bliss rather than sorrow or terror. The poem closes with a mood of comfort and reconcilement that has replaced the anguish of the opening stanza:

When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom'd,
And the great star early droop'd in the western sky in the night,
I mourn'd–and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

"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...

(The entire section is 459 words.)