Death brings the poet closer to a sense of peace with life. As part of the earth, death will return him back to the earth. He writes:
depart as air -- I shake my white locks at the runaway sun; effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.
A bequeathe myself to the dirt, to grow from the grass I love;
If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles. (1334-7)
Here the poet is expressing that he is comfortable with death and dying and it seems as though he is encouraging the reader to be at peace with death as well.
Being at peace with death does not always mean being immune to the pain it brings. We see the poet's reaction to death in "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd." Abraham Lincoln is forever connected to the Civil War and in this poem, the poet mourns the passing of President Lincoln's death. One significant aspect of this poem is how the poet seems to be grieving with the nation. He poet writes, "through old woods, where lately the violets peep'd from the/ground, spotting the grey debris" (Whitman When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd 27-8). As he watches the precession, he remarks how the "day and night with the cloud darkening the land" (34). With this line, we can almost see how the procession is becoming a spiritual journey for Lincoln as he moves toward a better existence. In the same vein, "So Long!" is a poem about death. Again, we see the poet making a connection with every man, even to the last moments of death. The poet makes connections to life, singing the songs of the earth and then accepting death. The poet connects with the reader and writes, "Dear friend, whoever you are, take this kiss,/I give it especially to you -- Do not forget me" (Whitman So Long 66-7). Moreover, in the closing lines, the poet welcomes the unavoidable death, writing, "Remember my words -- I may again return,/I love you -- I depart from materials;/I am as one disembodied, triumphant, dead" (71-3). Death, just as mourning, is a part of life and the poet wishes to express this notion.
Walt Whitman is an exceptional poet because he captures the essence of his life in a personal way. The poet does not simply write about life - the poet writes about his life and his personal feelings regarding everything that is happening around him. Whitman's poetry, because it is so personal, allows us to see the beauty of living against the backdrop of the Civil War. War is painful and the most painful aspect is death. Whitman allows us to see death through his eyes and through his heart. He finds a connection with every human being and writes to him or her in every line. He writes to slaves, soldiers, mothers, daughters, children, and even the President. Because these poems are so intimate, we feel what the poet feels. Poems that illustrate the poet's connection to every man as well as his connection to the war are "Song of Myself," "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," and "So Long!" Each poem celebrates something. Even while the poet speaks of death, he is able to turn our eyes to a celebration of life. This idea sounds nice to us now but during the time of the Civil War, when people were surrounded by death and fear, these notions were surely magnified a thousand times. The death of a Union soldier was no less significant than the death of the president and Whitman goes to great lengths to make this point. Life is special to us all and, in the face of death, Whitman holds our hands and walks with us into the great unknown.
Folsom, Ed. "Antebellum Writers in New York." Dictionary of Literary Biography. GALE Resource Database. Site Accessed July 16, 2008. http://www.infotrac.galegroup.com
Spiller, Robert, et al. Literary History of the United States. New York: MacMillan Publishing Company. Inc. 1974.
Whitman, Walt. "Song of Myself." Leaves of Grass. New York: Signet Classics. 1958.
So Long." Leaves of Grass. New York: Signet Classics. 1958.
When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd." Leaves…