TITLE: Walt Whitman's Elegy for Lincoln
SPEAKER: Alice Birney, Rosemary Winslow
EVENT DATE: 03/25/2005
FORMAT: Video + Captions
RUNNING TIME: 47 minutes
TRANSCRIPT: View Transcript (link will open in a new window)
A reading of Whitman's great "Lilacs" elegy was the first event in the Library's 2005 celebrations marking the sesquicentennary of Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" and was presented by Alice L. Birney, the Library's literary manuscript specialist, March 25, 2005. Prof. Rosemary Winslow of Catholic University of America introduced the elegy, and the reading was then performed by 11 staff members and four distinguished guests. Whitman wrote this elegant elegy in the weeks following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in Ford's Theater in Washington D.C., April 14, 1865. Neither Lincoln nor assassination is named in it, making the poem more universally appealing as dealing with the theme of death in general. Whitman was in New York at the time of the shooting, but he used printed and personal reports as source materials. With its central images of lilac, star and thrush, the elegy follows a classical pattern, moving from grief to consolation. Its song echoes traditional Roman and English formal elegies but is played to a new American rhythm and structure.
Speaker Biography: Alice Birney is an American literature specialist at the Library of Congress.
Speaker Biography: Rosemary Winslow lives and works in Washington, D.C., (on the same street where Whitman lived for a time), with her husband John, a visual artist. Her work has appeared in "32 Poems," "Poet Lore," "The Southern Review," "Crux" and other journals. She has received the Larry Neal Award for Poetry twice and Writer's Fellowships from the D.C. Commission for the Arts and The Vermont Studio Center. She teaches literature and writing at The Catholic University of America, specializing in American poetry from 1850 to the present. Her articles on Whitman have included the influence of Egyptology on his work and Whitman's prosodic practice and influence on the Modernists.