Dec 13, 2009

First Couplets - A History of Odes to the Chief

(NYTimes) ... The high-water mark of American presidential poetry, most agree, was Walt Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," written shortly after Lincoln's assassination (in an email message, Robert Pinsky called Whitman's more classroom-friendly "O Captain! My Captain!" "pretty cornball" and "not very good"):

When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom'd
And the great star early droop'd in the western sky in the night
I mourn'd-and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

James Garfield, assassinated in 1881, fared less well, prompting a mere six lines from Whitman, along with more florid outpourings like this one from John Wesley Crouter:

He stood unmindful of his doom.
In conscious strength, manly, serene;
When fragrant flowers were in bloom
He fell - then horror enwraps the scene
James A. Garfield has gone to his last resting place,
No more on earth we'll hear his voice, or see his face


Photo: Kurz & Allison - James Garfield and family, 1882 (Library of Congress).