History, Spirit, and Heart: Lincoln, Whitman, and Us
(Mike DePung — Post II.70–17)
Earlier today I posted on Instagram one of my “Evening Pages.” I did write it in the morning, in fact, before 9:30; however, I had work to do and our taxes were scheduled to be done. By the time I typed my handwritten page, it was 6:00 p.m.
And over the course of the day, knowing it was tax day, I have been thinking about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln 152 years ago today — just happens to be the same day. I looked back at my article from last year, and I will share a portion of that here.
Before that, I would like to connect just a bit with that which I wrote last night and this morning. I wanted to make some statements about what I believe, and I wanted to flat out make the statements in a positive light with no contrasts. Considering this day, I cannot.
I can’t because of this: I believe that Thomas Jefferson and many founders of America had a spirit that encompassed what we need today: understanding the value, potential, and freedoms of every individual. Yes, I know their limitations and flaws; however, if anyone would bring those to my attention, I would simply reply that Ego is always with us and wields power.
Allow me to make the connection. The Declaration of Independence penned primarily by Jefferson was reinforced by Lincoln — “…dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” — and it embodied a vision and spirit that is still needed today. Although that document and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address are apparently focused on America, they embrace a respect for all humanity. I do not believe they had a full view of the essence of their words; however, today, more than ever that spirit is needed.
It is the spirit of having a view to the unity of all people and nations. Nationalism, the contrast, continues to create war, death, and destruction. The spirit that animates nationalism is responsible for most of the conflict and unrest and death in this world today, and the essence of it is not only nation against nation but also involved in divisions within nations, such as exist in Syria, the United States, and almost every other nation in the world today. It is the same spirit that so exalted the rights of some humans to catapult their worth over others that they believed owning fellow humans was righteous. It is the spirit that assassinated an already tortured man like Abraham Lincoln.
Walt Whitman captured the soul of all these considerations in his epic poem “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” This was the focus of my post exactly one year ago today, and I replay it here, with some edits from the original.
151 years ago today, Abraham Lincoln died. Walt Whitman’s responses to that in poetic form offer much to think about. I will share fragments and my responses as WW considers the impact and significance of Death in general as he contemplates the train carrying the body of LIncoln. He takes symbolic meaning from the natural elements that speak to his heart: a lilac tree, the song of a solitary, unseen thrush, and the appearance and waning of Venus. With moist eyes and a chill, I read, “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.” Death provides the time for reflection and evaluation; it yields life and eternality in that reflection when we understand the nature of Heart within. Death frames and allows life energy to continue unobstructed by this body and the ego required to have this physicality.
Irony — life is full of it, isn’t it? On this date one hundred fifty-one 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).
In “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. The symbols speak depths of emotion and meaning.
He realizes that bright Venus in the western sky gradually fading into the horizon was 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 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 his heart. Abraham Lincoln lived his heart for millions upon millions of people. Know that death is not the end; death itself is always operative; 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 through your Heart.
Nothing short of knowing and valuing core Self, Heart, in ourself and every other human being will lead to peace. Insistence that our way, our nation’s way, our culture, our economy is the one and only solution and life is stupid, outmoded, and belligerent. Lincoln died because of his belief in the dignity of fellow human beings; this was his Heart. Whitman wrote and lived his Heart.
Nothing less should do for us.