The Essence of Loyalty in Walt Whitman's Poetry

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The dictionary defines loyalty as a strong feeling of support or allegiance. There are many instances throughout history that show people demonstrating their loyalty to other people of power or even people that are equal to them. In this case I will be discussing Walt Whitman and how his loyalty for Abraham Lincoln got him to help wounded soldiers of the civil war and helped him write his grandest pieces “lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd” and ”O Captain! My Captain!”. Then it will be compared to a show that has loyalty as one of its strong themes and that is “Code Geass”. This paper is intended to show readers how loyalty isn’t just a simple contract, it is the will to put your life on the line for someone else or the greater good of all people.

But before we talk about the poem, we should take a look at the loyalty Whitman had for Lincoln. Whitman's love for the American culture and history can be traced back to his childhood years when his parents, who showed their admiration for their country by naming Whitman and his siblings after great American heroes; the names were George Washington Whitman, Thomas Jefferson Whitman, and Andrew Jackson Whitman. It is clear that Whitman’s parents have a strong admiration for their country, and it has been reflected by the naming of their children. It was also common around that time for many Americans to be loyal to their country. “Loyalty was a factor in the lives of millions, second only to the paramount fact of war itself” (A. FOUST, 29). Many years later Walt found out that his brother George was wounded in the war so he set out to the south to find his brother and see if he was alright. But during his travels, Whitman had discovered in Washington, D.C. that he was able to contribute something to the war effort. He volunteered at many hospitals to treat wounded soldiers; his volunteer work has been exhausting and life changing for the poet. Whitman made about 600 hospital visits by his own estimates and met between 80,000 and 100,000 patients. The work took a big physical toll, but it also pushed him back to poetry. Not long after word got out of Lincolns assassination and Whitman was deeply saddened by this tragic news. With his heart heavy, he went out and wrote two poems that would help mark Whitman’s place in history ''O Captain! My Captain!” and “lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd”.

Firstly let us take a look at” O Captain! My Captain!”. It was written in 1865 close to when Lincoln was assassinated. In the poem it is clear that the soldiers are represented as the sailors and that their captain represents Lincoln, we also see how this poem unfolds from the perspective of a sailor and that sailor is Walt Whitman. This is supported by “My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still, My father does not feel my arm,”. (cite) Secondly, let us talk about “lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd”; it was originally published in 1865 and is an elegy for Abraham Lincoln. The reason why he wrote an elegy for Lincoln was because Whitman believed in his ideals and morals. The poem may not mention Lincoln directly but there are many symbols that can be interpreted as him. Such as the lilac, the star, and the bird. The lilac represents his love and admiration for Lincoln. This is supported by “Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring, Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west, and thought of him I love”. (Cite) This quote shows us how the memory of Lincoln will always be remembered in Whitman's mind and heart. This quote also mentions the star which represents Lincoln's life and how he was taken from this world early. For the bird symbol, Whitman uses it to represent the freedom Lincoln believed and fought for. This is clear in the line “The gray-brown bird I know receiv’d us comrades three, and he sang the carol of death and a verse for him I love”. (Cite). This shows us how the bird represents Lincoln by how he supported the soldiers that were fighting for him and when Whitman mentions the carol of death, he means Lincoln's last words and how he still values Lincoln. Comment by Mikael Habib:

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Now that we see how much Walt Whitman values Lincoln let us switch over to an anime titled Code Geass and see how characters from that show respect their superiors. Our primary example is one named Jerimiah Gotwald. Jerimiah began as a guard at the Palace of the Aries. Not long after his employment started, the empress for his nation: Empress Marianne was assassinated with Jerimiah being unable to save her. He considered that incident his greatest failure. He subsequently transferred to Japan, the land that apparently took the lives of Lelouch and Nunnally, two children of the Empress, in an attempt to redeem himself. Long after Price Clovis was assassinated, The British Army's purebloods frame Suzaku for the death of Clovis, planning to use him as an excuse to rid the army of Honorary Britannians. As a result, Suzaku is arranged to be executed. But after an encounter with Zero, Jeremiah's standing with both the Army and Brittania is severely dropped, because of this, he got demoted from his rank and his superiors and fellow Knightmare pilots started referring to him as 'Orange' as a way of mocking him. Long after Jeremiah seeks any opportunity to capture or kill Zero, even disobeying orders to do so, in order to regain his status. During the Battle of Narita, he gets his chance. This is clear by him stating, “You mean this is the rear line? You can’t get any further away from the battlefield. How am I going to redeem my reputation out here if I’m not even near the fighting?”. (Code Geass Ep.10). But after nearly dying he was not seen again for the rest of season one.

Not long after in season two, Jeremiah has been sent by V.V. to murder Lelouch. The two encounter each other at a station where Jeremiah asks Lelouch why he has become Zero and betrayed the Emperor. Lelouch tells him that it was to avenge his mother's death, Empress Marianne, and reveals Lelouch Vi Britannia as his real name. He returns to normal and swears his loyalty to Lelouch in order to redeem his failure to protect Marianne by realizing who Lelouch really was and his motivations. Afterwards, he began to see the nickname “Orange” as a compliment, considering it as his loyalty's name to Lelouch.

From what we can see in season one of Code Geass, Jerimiah desperately wanted to restore his rank to be respected by his peers again, but in season two, he does not care about that and only cares about serving his majesty Lelouch. This is clear in the line, “In a very general and basic sense, it could be said that loyalism is grounded in a political regime or creed, whereas patriotism concerns the promotion of the fatherland.” ( WOLD, 132). This quote can show us how Jerimiah’s loyalty is both for his country and for the royal family. With switching sides in the second season it is shown that Jerimiah’s will always fight for who he believes in. even if it means fighting his old friends and his old superiors. This is clear in the line “The most that can be said is that patriotism is ideologically ambiguous, politically contentious, morally uncertain and historically unspecific - a battle zone, a contested territory, an arena of disputation, where the combatants, the engagement and the outcome change according to circumstance.” (Cannadine 95).

There are a few strong similarities with Whitman and Jeremiah, the first one is how they both lost their superiors who were assassinated. For Walt, it was Lincoln and for Jeremiah it was Empress Marianne. Whitman took his despair and wrote both “O captain, my Captain” and “lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd”. Jeremiah on the other hand continued to serve the Britannian army so that he can still show his loyalty to his country and Empress Marianne. Another strong similarity is how they both went to great lengths for their superiors. Whitman supervised and took care of many injured soldiers and Jerimiah came back from the brink of death to continue to serve his country. There are also some strong differences. One being that Whitman never served in the military while Jeremiah was born to serve and fight because of his Brittanian bloodline. Another difference is how the two each served their respective countries; Whitman helped by tending to wounded soldiers and helping them to recover in hospitals while Jeremiah was in the front lines as a soldier for Brittania.

In conclusion, loyalty is something that cannot be given or taken, it must be demonstrated and earned. It is something so simple, yet very powerful to affect affiliations among groups and people, and influences who wins and who loses at the end of the day. Just like how Whitman showed his loyalty to Lincoln by patching up the mountains of wounded soldiers from the civil war to help the north to win, or by how Jerimiah went through his rollercoaster of battles to end up serving the person who he sworn his loyalty to from the beginning of the series, loyalty is a big wild card of emotions and decision-making; and that is the essence of loyalty.

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