Whitman's Elegies and His View of Death.
An elegy is a poetic response to the experience of loss. Although the elegy is among the oldest poetic forms with a rich history in myths and in religious texts, the elegy was a popular nineteenth-century genre. Walt Whitman was familiar with both old and contemporary elegies and was well-acquainted with the history of the tradition. The Civil War offered him an opportunity to use the elegy as a form for new poems of his own. The death of Abraham Lincoln was of particular importance to Whitman. The poems that Whitman wrote in response to the Civil War and to the memory of President Lincoln may be classified as "elegies". .
In order to study Whitman's view of death, the first thing is to analyze his great elegy "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" , which is both in theme, a tour de force of Whitman's. Thematically, it deals with the typical Whitmanesque love-and-death motif. In discussing that famous elegy it is interesting to begin by asking what remains unsaid in the poem. For one thing, Lincoln is never named as the subject within the context of the poem; his death becomes representative of all the war dead. By placing Lincoln's death within a timeless regenerative order of nature, Whitman's "Lilacs" also "covers over" the fact of Lincoln's unnatural and violent assassination. Although the vision of battle in section 15 is often passed over in critical considerations of the poem, this bloody sight of "battle-corpses" and the "debris" of war is, I believe, the unspeakable honor and real subject of the poem.
Lincoln's assassination caused the whole nation in mourning. In the second paragraph, every line begins with an "O". a sign of the mouth of a person weeping, and we get to know the intensity of the grief with which the nation, the poet included, was stricken. For over half the length of the poem, the poet is seen writing in the grip of physical loss.