Symbolism in When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d

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      The most striking poems, memorable for its powerful, beautiful and significant use of symbols, is When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d. In this poem, we witness a controlled symbolism involving the fallen western star, the perpetually blooming lilacs, the thrush warbling in the pines and cedars, the long black smoke trail of Lincoln’s funeral train. Whitman employed several symbols in a single poem, contributing to its total richness of meaning. Symbols grow and fluctuate in meaning as the poet communicates his perception to the reader.

      The symbols of lilac, the evening star and the hermit-thrush together stand for rebirth and resurrection. Whitman’s skillful use of these symbols helps recreate the sweeping drama of Lincoln’s death and the national mourning without mentioning the President’s death. The star symbolizes Lincoln, and each of the adjectives applied to the star-powerful, fallen, western - also applies to Lincoln. If the star is symbolic of President Lincoln, the cloud hiding the star is the symbol of his death.

      The lilac bush is a symbol of life, love, or affection note its heart-shaped leaves; and the breaking of the twig is the beginning of a symbolic act of love. The lilac with its color and perfume also represents physical life. The hermit-thrush, through the song it sings, represents spiritual life. The thrush song is “Death’s outlet song of life” - a song celebrating death as an outlet or rebirth into the spiritual life. The journey of Lincoln’s coffin through the natural setting is symbolic of a journey through life; the passage through the mourning cities suggests a journey through death. The offering of a sprig of lilac symbolizes the bestowal of life on the dead, the gift of eternal spiritual life to the physically dead. The pictures to adorn Lincoln’s tomb will be from nature as well as the life of the thickly populated cities-symbolizing Lincoln’s breadth of vision and amplitude of soul. In the end, the lilac, the star and the bird twine together with the poet’s chant, to symbolize the true significance of death as a deliveress into immortality.

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