‘Hush’d Be the Camps To-Day’ by Walt Whitman commemorating the death of President Abraham Lincoln was written on April 19, 1865, shortly after Lincoln’s assassination. The poem better reveals the poet’s mood at that time. Though the poem deals with the death of Abraham Lincoln, the situation that made the whole of America standstill, he tries to approach it with optimism in this poem.
Hush'd Be the Camps To-Day Walt Whitman HUSH'D be the camps to-day; And, soldiers, let us drape our war-worn weapons; And each, with musing soul retire, to celebrate, Our dear commander's death. No more for him life's stormy conflicts; Nor victory, nor defeat—No more time's dark events, Charging like ceaseless clouds across the sky. But sing, poet, in our name; Sing of the love we bore him—because you, dweller in camps, know it truly. Sing, to the lower'd coffin there; Sing, with the shovel'd clods that fill the grave—a verse, For the heavy hearts of soldiers.
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The poem ‘Hush’d Be the Camps To-Day’ by Walt Whitman reveals his intentions of writing a poem in memory of Abraham Lincoln. The poet has employed irony in the poem as he talks of the Death of Lincoln.
‘Hush’d Be the Camps To-Day’ by Walt Whitman reveals his intentions of writing a poem in memory of Abraham Lincoln. The poet begins by requesting the camps to be quiet in honor of their lost commander. He wants the soldiers to retire and drape the weapons, as the war is done. Despite the sorrow that was befallen by the death of Abraham Lincoln, he brings in a positive note when he says that his commander has no worries about victory or defeat. Further, he states that he doesn’t have to worry about the dark times of the war. Considering all these he wants ‘the poet’ (a soldier or an appeal to himself) to sing a song as they slide down the body of Lincoln to bury. He prefers a soldier from the camp to sing a song, for he knows Lincoln better than anyone.
Form and Structure
Whitman’s ‘Hush’d Be the Camps To-Day’ like his other poems are written in free verse. The poem has four stanzas and thirteen lines. Except for the first quatrains, the other three are written in a tercet. The first stanza of the poem introduces Lincoln’s death and the second stanza is a self consolation for he believes that his commander is freed from all the earthly worries. In the third and fourth stanza, he articulates his intention of writing a poem in memory of the commander and reciting it as they alight his body into the grave. While concluding the poem, he requests them to sing at least one verse as they cover his grave with earth.
The theme of ‘Hush’d Be the Camps To-Day’ revolves around the death of Abraham Lincoln and the events followed. Whitman couldn’t attend Lincoln’s funeral in person, as he was with his mother due to his health conditions. When he received the news of Lincoln’s death he was moved by the heart. That he wanted to vent out his feeling of loss through poetry.
The tone of ‘Hush’d Be the Camps To-Day’ is in contrast to the theme of the poem. Basically it is conversational in tone. We could sense the tone of resignation in the poet than melancholy to express his expression of sorrow. Even the word “celebrate” gives an optimistic outlook in accordance with the tone.
Literary and Poetic Devices
‘HUSH’D be the camps to-day’ compared to his other poems written in memory of Abraham does not have many literary or poetic techniques. His usual way of using metaphor is retained as he has used “life’s stormy conflicts” in the second stanza. Here, he claims that his commander no more has to deal with issues that come like storms.
The poet has also employed simile in the second stanza where he remembers the dark time prevailed during the Civil War. Here he compares the events of the Civil War to the sky that has recurring clouds upon them “dark events,/Charging like ceaseless clouds across the sky.”
Imagery, the strongest device used in poetry, appeals to the senses. The poet brings in the image of Lincoln’s body being descended into the grave and the grave is being covered with earth. Readers could visualize the situation involuntarily as they read the lines, “As they invault the coffin there,” “as they close the doors of earth upon him.”
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
HUSH’D be the camps to-day,
And soldiers let us drape our war-worn weapons,
And each with musing soul retire to celebrate,
Our dear commander’s death.
The poem ‘HUSH’D be the camps to-day’ begins with an imperative sentence where the poet requests the soldiers to be silent in the camps for their captain is dead. It is in a way sound like a poet seeking them for silent mourning. He further asks the soldiers to drape the ‘war-worn weapons,’ which indicates the end of the civil war which preceded Lincoln’s death. The final line employs the paradox for the poet invites the retiring soldiers ‘to celebrate’ their commander’s death, which is indicative of the poet’s contentment despite the loss of Abraham Lincoln.
No more for him life’s stormy conflicts,
Nor victory, nor defeat—no more time’s dark events,
Charging like ceaseless clouds across the sky.
The second stanza of the poem expresses the poet’s satisfaction in finding that finally, his commander will be at rest. Any leader will have to endure his share of personal and public issues. Especially in the case of Abraham Lincoln, he was facing the worst kind of war between the north and south. The poet believes that death has removed him from the “stormy conflicts” and he no more has to worry about “victory” or “defeat.” Further, Whitman feels that he had to have no worries about the “dark events” that were recurring like the clouds of the sky.
But sing poet in our name,
Sing of the love we bore him—because you, dweller in camps,
know it truly.
In the third stanza of ‘HUSH’D be the camps to-day’ express the poet’s intention of writing a poem in memory of Abraham Lincoln. Whitman seems to be addressing the warriors to sing a song on his behalf, and the reason is revealed in the later lines. He wants the song to propagate how the people loved their president. Especially, he wants the “dweller in camps,” the soldiers to sing the song, for they know him better than anyone. The stanza makes it clear that Whitman tries to find solace in poetry, which he often does in his poems. Also, the ambiguity in line one sounds like the poet is motivating himself to write a poem on Abraham Lincoln.
As they invault the coffin there,
Sing—as they close the doors of earth upon him—one verse,
For the heavy hearts of soldiers.
The fourth stanza of ‘HUSH’D be the camps to-day’ continues to clarify when and how the poet wants the song to be sung. When Lincoln was buried He wants the soldiers to sing the song as they let his coffin down the pit. As they close the doors of earth upon him, symbolically referring to burying the coffin, he wants them to sing at least one song. He hopes that the song will ease the soldiers off their heavy hearts.
Whitman was at home in Brooklyn when he heard of the news of Lincoln’s assassination. He recalls how the news of Lincoln was received by his family in his book. It says that “the family did not eat and not a word was spoken that day”. He heard a similar story that troops under William Tecumseh Sherman on their homeward march were loud and jubilant until they heard the news about Lincoln. This could be his inspiration for using the title and beginning the poem with the same line.
Walt Whitman has not written just this one poem but three more in memory of Abraham Lincoln. They are “O Captain! My Captain!”, a poem of extended metaphor, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”, a pastoral elegy, and “This Dust Was Once the Man,” a short elegy. Besides these elegies, “Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight“ by Vachel Lindsay credits Lincoln as the hero of the Civil War. There is also a poem said to be written by Abraham Lincoln, available under the title “The Suicide’s Soliloquy”