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More About. In front of the house is a yard with a lilac bush. Nearby is a a swamp. Historical Background. Wilkes had shot him in the back of the head while Lincoln was in the presidential box watching the third act of a play, Our American Cousin. Lincoln died the next day. After lying in state at the Capitol on April 20, his body was transported by train to Springfield, Ill. The tone of the poem is somber and heavy with grief, but its mournfulness eases somewhat after the speaker observes that death ends suffering.
He even welcomes death:. Prais'd be the fathomless universe, For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious, And for love, sweet love -- but praise!
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For the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding death. The last time he noticed lilacs blooming, says the poem's speaker, he saw a great star falling in the western sky. The falling star is the planet Venus, which symbolizes Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln "fell" from power on April 14, , when he was mortally wounded.
He died the following day.
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The speaker mourned. Now, as spring returns, he again sees the blooming lilacs and the falling star, and again he mourns the death of Lincoln. He will do so every year at this this time, he says. When the dark sky hides the star, his soul becomes a prisoner of sadness.
The lilacs are on a bush in a yard in front of an old farmhouse. The green leaves of the bush are shaped like a heart, and the sprouting blossoms give off a fragrance that he loves. He breaks off a sprig as a remembrance. In a nearby swamp, a hermit thrush sings a lonely song from a bleeding throat. He is not unlike Whitman, who is "singing" a sorrowful poem.
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It was while spring was blooming that Lincoln's funeral train traveled from Washington, D. The speaker recalls that dreadful day. Here is how it was Bells toll and the people sing dirges. At nighttime, mourners with torches line the route. But he says he also mourns for all who die a "sane and sacred death. When he listens to the hermit thrush singing in the swamp, he asks it what he himself should sing write in his elegy for the fallen president and what his perfume should be for his grave. Then the speaker answers for himself, saying his perfume shall be the sea winds, blown from the Atlantic and the Pacific, joined with the breath of his chant at the site of the tomb.
On the walls of the tomb, he says, he will hang. O powerful western fallen star! O shades of night—O moody, tearful night! O cruel hands that hold me powerless—O helpless soul of me! In the swamp in secluded recesses, A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song. O how shall I warble myself for the dead one there I loved? And how shall I deck my song for the large sweet soul that has gone? And what shall my perfume be for the grave of him I love? O what shall I hang on the chamber walls?
And what shall the pictures be that I hang on the walls, 80 To adorn the burial-house of him I love? O liquid and free and tender! While my sight that was bound in my eyes unclosed, As to long panoramas of visions. The poem expresses intense grief at the loss of Abraham Lincoln.
After describing the fallen president as "the great star that early droop'd in the western sky," the poem's speaker looks at the sky and says,. After expressing his sadness at the death of Lincoln and his distress at the vision of mangled corpses on the Civil War battlefield, the speaker concludes that death is actually a friend; it ends suffering.
Only the living know affliction and misery. Although the speaker says he will mourn the death of Lincoln every April, he also says he will celebrate the rebirth of Lincoln's spirit at the same time. This rebirth will coincide with the rebirth of nature in sprouting plants and blooming flowers.
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Even the sprig that the speaker broke off the lilac bush--a symbol of Lincoln's broken body after a bullet entered his skull--will grow back and perfume the spring air. Thanks in large part to Lincoln's leadership, the Union defeated the Confederacy, and the North and South once again became the United States after the war.
Whitman seems to allude to the reunification when he says that among the pictures he will hang on the wall of Lincoln's tomb is one of "the South and the North in the light" line This light, the speaker says, is a "miracle spreading bathing all. The speaker also alludes to the unification of East and West when he says,. To help him express the depth of his intense feeling for his subject, Whitman uses first-person point of view, vivid sensory language, symbols, and frequent repetition of key words and phrases.
Also, rather than strait-jacketing his thoughts into an established metrical pattern with fixed line lengths and stress patterns, he casts them in free verse, allowing his content and the power of his passion to dictate line length and rhythm. Finally, to give the elegy a poetic cast, he uses the traditional devices of inversion of word order, internal rhyme, and archaisms.