Irony — life is full of it, isn’t it? On this date 151 years ago, Abraham Lincoln died as a result of his heart belief that “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free” (Lincoln, House Divided Speech). Because of that stand, on the exact same date 82 years later, Jackie Robinson would be able to step out and contribute as one of the most significant figures leading to the end of a segregated society.
Orville Vernon Burton’s The Essential Lincoln: Speeches and Correspondence shows that Lincoln acted as he did based on his heart. (By the way, credit: Burton’s book has been the source of my Lincoln quotes). Walt Whitman understood that.
In one of his most moving poems, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” Walt takes symbolic meaning of three natural elements that express his grief, his thoughts, and his conclusions not only about Lincoln’s death but also about the death of so many others during that time.
He realizes that for the last month before writing, he had been watching bright Venus in the western sky gradually fade into the horizon — a sign of the bright star of Lincoln disappearing. He says, “O powerful western fallen star! / O shades of night — O moody, tearful night! / O great star disappear’d…”
He also refers to the title bush, the lilac: “…with many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love, / With every leaf a miracle…With delicate-colored blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green, / A sprig with its flower I break.” He intended to lay this on the coffin of President Lincoln as the mourning train traveled past his city. He ultimately offers it up symbolically not only to Lincoln but also to death itself seen in all the coffins of all those slain in the war.
Then, under the darkness of evening he attempts to reconcile all this as he walks along a path close to a swamp and hears the song of the thrush which echoes his song to death: “Approach strong deliveress, / …when thou hast taken them I joyously sing the dead, / Lost in the loving floating oceans of thee, / Laved in the flood of your bliss O death.” He sings a carol to death using the voice of the thrush because he realizes that death frames and showcases all that one’s life was about; it allows reflection and evaluation. Without that, our lives are meaningless.
Are you dealing with sorrow of any sort? Question your own heart and then give your heart a means to speak to you. Walk and observe and listen to life all around you. Messages to you personally are there, waiting. If you walk in ego, you will not hear them. Walt Whitman was unrestricted and didn’t care what anyone thought of his poems. He wrote based on his heart. Jackie Robinson played baseball based on his heart. Abraham Lincoln lived based on his heart for millions upon millions of people. Know that death is not the end; death itself is always operative, therefore, alive itself; cessation of life energy in the body does not mean it’s over. Use death as it wants to be used: reflect, evaluate, and value life. Remember that Walt saw every leaf of the lilac as “a miracle”!
“When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” contains sorrow but victory in the poem and in death, and it ends like this: “Comrades mine and I in the midst and their memory ever to keep, for the dead I loved so well, / For the sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands and this for his dear sake, / Lilac and star and bird twined with the chant of my soul, / There in the fragrant pines and the cedars dusk and dim.”
We need both sorrow and victory. In the end, they yield miracles.
Questions to consider:
How many times have you asked yourself or simply thought about the following questions?
Who am I, really?
What is my truth?
How do my actions reveal what I really feel and believe?
What would I do with my life if I could do anything?
What is my passion?
Why am I here?
How can I discover answers to any of these questions?
If you have considered any of these questions, I hope that my experiences and writing will give you some guidance. Please read my blog and comment and share your thoughts. I would love to hear from you!