Imagery, Elegy and Poet Of Democracy- Hand Notes

Mofizur Rahman

Hand Notes of Imagery Elegy and Poet Of Democracy

Honours 4th Year.
Hand Notes of Walt Whitman's Poems
American Poetry.
Walt Whitman's Poems
Hand Notes For Good Result.
Broad Question and Answer (Part C)

Hand Notes of Imagery Elegy and Poet Of Democracy



What is imagery? Discuss how Whitman has used imagery in the poems you have read.

Answer: Imagery means the use of images or pictures in words to describe ideas or situations. In a work of literature an image is something that can be perceived through one or more senses -sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, the sense of motion or sense of heat or cold.

Walt Whitman employs different types of images in his poems in order to create the desired effect. They are the images of the earth, the sea, the sky, of night and day, of hills and mountains and rivers, of nature and animals, of sex, energy and vitality. His long poems like "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd' or 'O Captain! , My Captain!' seem to be made up of a number of images.

In the poem "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd' we see an abundance of images of the earth, the sky, the sea and all that moving in succession . Pictures of growing spring and farms and homes, and the gray smoke lucid and bright,  leaves of the trees prolific. In the distance the flowing glaze, the breast of the river, with a wind-dapple here and there. If we closely study these lines we find a quick succession of vivid and powerful images passing before our eyes.

The same poem contains the image of the star, Venus. It symbolizes eternity. In this poem the star is seen to have fallen, but by the end of the poem, it is seen to be brightly glowing in the western sky. It signifies the immortality of Lincoln's memory and also the eternity of the soul. In the following lines of the poem we get a wonderful image of death: Falling upon them all and among them all, enveloping me with the rest. Appeared the cloud, appeared the long black trail, And I knew death, its thought, and the sacred knowledge of death. The concept of the unity in the universe is reinforced by the use of images. In this poem the image of trinity suggests this unity: 

Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring. 
Lilacs blooming perennial and drooping star in the west, And thought of him I love. 

The flower and the spring belong to the earth but the star belongs to the sky. All objects of the heaven and the earth are conceived of having formed a unity and interrelationship.

In the poem "O Captain! My Captain!" Whitman has used an extended image of a ship carrying the dead body of the great leader Lincoln. The ship is presented as the image of the whole American state. The image of the people who have gathered on the bank of the river to give a warm ovation to the Captain of the ship represents the whole American nation. 

At the end of the poem the poet gives an image of himself extremely lonely and grief-stricken. His loneliness and grief become all the more prominent because of the contrast the poet has shown between himself and mass waiting for the arrival of the ship. Whitman idea of democracy, his mystic philosophy and the universal of bond of all things and beings have been successfully expressed through his powerful imagery.


What is an elegy? Consider When Lilacs Last in Dooryard Bloom'd as an elegy. 

Answer: An elegy is a poem of sorrow or mourning for the dead. It is also a reflective poem in a solemn or sorrowful mood. In other words, an elegy is a lyric poem that laments a death of an individual person or a tragic event. Now a days, modern writers tend to mourn other people. Pastoral  elegy is a kind of elegy.

The most remarkable elegies lamenting the death of a particular person include 

Walt Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" (Abraham Lincoln),  John Milton's "Lycidas" (Edward King),  P.B. Shelley's "Adonais" (John Keats), Alfred Lord Tennyson's "In Memoriam" (Arthur H. Hallam), Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" (not the death of a person, but the passing of a way of life) and so on.

Now we will discuss Walt Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in the Doorgand Bloom'd" as an elegy. Actually it is a long elegy 16 sections on the death of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of America. It develops from the personal to the impersonal; from an intense feeling of grief to the thought of reconciliation . Whitman loved the great leader very much because the leader is in favour of the freedom of the Negro slaves. The great leader also saved his country from disintegration. The poet also loved him because of his honesty, sympathy, courage and determination. When he died, the poet got a deep shock in his mind. In the conventional elegy, the speaker starts by invoking the muses. But here Whitman starts by invoking the spring that will bring to him the trinity:

"Lilac blooming perennial  and drooping  star in the west, And thought of him is love." 
When lilac bloomed in the dooryard last spring, the poet mourned the death of his great leader. 

He will mourn with ever returning spring that will certainly bring to him the trinity. Being shocked at the death of the great leader, the poet sorrowfully addresses the fallen star, the shades of the moody, tearful night, the deep darkness that hides the star, and the surrounding cloud of grief.

Then the poet describes the journey of the coffin through natural scenery and industrial cities of which represent facets of American life. The poet mentions a great host of them, intending to say that all of them mourn the death of the great leader whom they love deeply. The coffin journeys in the spring, through the cities and lanes. It journeys through woods and grass, amid the yellow-speared wheat, the apple-trees' blossoms of white and pinks, in the orchards. It passes through the lanes and streets with great cloud darkening the land, through cities draped in black, through long and zigzag procession and the flaming torches of the night. These descriptions also uphold that "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" is an elegy.

When the poet heard that his beloved leader is now no more, he was shocked deeply. The sudden death of Abraham Lincoln touches the heart of the poet. While he sat in the day and looked forth he saw the close of the day with its light and the fields of spring, and the farmers preparing their crops. He saw the large unconscious scenery of his land with its lake and forests. Here the poet addresses death as "dark mother". Death plays an important role like a dark mother. Death is gliding near the leader Lincoln with soft feet. The poet chants a song of death. Actually, the poet has said that all the people chant but it does not seem to us as chant. It welcomes him. Through these lines we get a eulogy(cÖksmv) on the poet's beloved leader Abraham Lincoln:

"Dark mother always gliding near with soft feet, Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome?"  

We know that an elegy ends with consolation. If we go through poem "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" we may say that it starts with an invocation to spring and ends with consolation. It describes the natural scenery. For the treatment of natural scenery this poem is a pastoral poem.

To sum up, we may say that the poem "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" is an elegy indeed. It follows the tradition of an elegy. It also follows the features of an elegy. So it is a pastoral elegy.

Poet Of Democracy

Discuss Walt Whitman As A Poet Of Democracy.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) is considered to be one of the greatest poets of democracy not only in American literature but also in world literature as well. He was born democrat as he believed in the inherent dignity and equality of all men and women. His conception of democracy is based on this belief. Here Whitman is illustrated as a poet of democracy by pointing out the references of his poems.

In the poems "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" and "O Captain! My Captain", Whitman has announced  the ultimate victory of democracy. In both of these poems, he has asserted  that after a struggle of the bloody civil war the ship or train of democracy has reached its shore.  But the criminals   of democracy could not tolerate this and they think that they will destroy the democracy from the history of the nation but it has been even more stable witnessed by the presence of the- 

O Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done, 
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won  

It appears from a study of Whitman's poetry that his democracy is ideal and universal. He personifies the spirit of universal brotherhood. According to a critic of Whitman, "Men of every class then are interesting to Whitman". In "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry", the poet says-

"It avails not time nor space- distance avails not
I am with you, you men and women of a generation,
Or every so many generation hence"

From the above-quoted lines, we can form an idea of the democracy of Whitman that all men are equal and that is ideal. As a manifestation of his democratic ideal, the poet celebrates the average American through himself. He uses the "I" as an all embracing concept. Like the kingdom of heaven, the democracy of Whitman is open irrespective of any caste , color, or creed. That is why Whitman refuses to compose poems for the parts.

The basic ideas of democracy are the liberty of the individual, fraternity, equality, and brotherhood. All these are based on the basic dignity of man. The poet says- "And that all men ever born are also my brothers and the women my sisters and lovers" As it is known to the people of the world that Abraham Lincoln who is the ideal political leader of Whitman has fought against the injustice of the slavery system.

The long civil war (1861-1865) has been the prime subject matter of Whitman's poetry and the murder of his beloved leader is illustrated by him in his poems. This depiction symbolically represents the democratic note of dignity and nobility of every common man. Whitman is considered to be the composer of the Bible of democracy. "Leaves of Grass" is his most famous political work. It is regarded as the Bible of democracy. Besides, almost all of the poems of Whitman directly or indirectly deal with politics and democracy.

But, for all these, we should not take Whitman as a mere idealist in democracy. His democracy is practical. The way he holds the idea of democracy is different from other thinker's ideas about it. His democracy is ideal and universal.

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