"Daniel Mark Epstein [brings] to life with passionate vividness...the parallel lives of the president and the poet."
—The Wall Street Journal
“RIVETING…the book places its two subjects in uniquely sharp perspective. A compelling portrait of Lincoln and Whitman as contemporaries, as visionaries, and as Americans.”
The Baltimore Sun
“A pleasure to read. It’s…easy to be charmed by Epstein’s style.”
The Savannah Morning News
“VIVID…Lincoln and Whitman is nothing if not balanced. Epstein deftly traces the links between Whitman’s poems and Lincoln’s speeches…echoes that reverberate.”
“There have not been many poet-biographers in this country…Epstein is part of [a] select company. Mr. Epstein’s new book shows that poetry is at the heart of what made both Lincoln, and the country great.”
The New York Sun
Beautifully written . . . Epstein’s portraits of the president and the poet, his sketches of a fascinating supporting cast, his depiction of Civil War Washington’s mix of squalor and majesty . . . all are exquisitely exact. Lincoln and Whitman is an elegant book.”
–The Providence Journal
“Whitman and Lincoln aren’t the only two poets in the work; Epstein himself is a well-published poet, and the rhythms of verse inform his prose. Under his hand the nation’s capital becomes a living character.”
–St. Petersburg Times
“A revealing character study.”
ERIC FONER, The Washington Post
“Epstein memorably evokes the look and feel of Washington during the Civil War, the eerily adjacent lives there of Walt Whitman and Abraham Lincoln, and the frantic events that issued in the murder of our greatest president and the writing of our greatest poem, ‘When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.’ Combining biography and history, his ingeniously constructed double narrative of personal development and national tragedy radiates humor, wonderment, and terror.”
—KENNETH SILVERMAN, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Life and Times of Cotton Mather and Edgar A. Poe: Mournful Never-ending Remembrance
“Deftly written and carefully researched, this book uncovers fresh and often surprising connections between America’s greatest poet and its greatest statesman. Daniel Mark Epstein reveals a political side to Whitman and a literary side to Lincoln, finding new subtleties of character and skill in each of these towering figures. Along the way, he re-creates nineteenth-century life in fascinating ways.”
—DAVID S. REYNOLDS, City University of New York, author of the prize-winning Walt Whitman’s America and Beneath the American Renaissance
“Perhaps only a writer who has produced both biography and poetry could have crafted such an illuminating, elegant book. The scholarship is excellent, the ideas provocative, and the writing simply sublime. Both Lincoln and Whitman—together with the long-vanished culture in which they lived—come vividly, sometimes startlingly, alive in Daniel Mark Epstein’s luminous prose.”
—HAROLD HOLZER, author of The Lincoln Image and co-chairman of the U.S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission
During the final two years of the Civil War, Walt Whitman lived in a Spartan rented room a few rutted blocks north of the White House. The poet and the President who inspired his most popular poem (“O Captain! My Captain!”) and his most beautiful (“When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”) never met. But Whitman often planted himself along the route of Lincoln’s carriage as it rattled to the President’s summer retreat, and the two men would exchange grave, friendly nods. Years later, Whitman, palsied but still Jovian, lectured about the great man to a Gilded Age audience that included Mark Twain, William Dean Howells, Andrew Carnegie, and General Sherman. Epstein, an accomplished poet as well as a biographer, imbues his tale of two lives with a natural sense of detail and period that revivifies the familiar figures he writes about.
Epstein, a Baltimore biographer, magazine writer and poet has yoked Lincoln and Whitman in a detailed narrative sure to please the vast audience that both men justly command. The books is a fine combination of biography, history, and literary criticism, with several quirky excursions into the mysteries of the two men’s lives and loves.
Poet and biographer Epstein (What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, about Edna St. Vincent Millay) covers the same ground canvassed most recently, and more ably, by Roy Morris Jr. in his much-praised The Better Angel: Walt Whitman in the Civil War. Where Epstein falters is in his basic paradigm: a narrative that insists on interleaving the "parallel"-but never intersecting-lives of Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman. The two never met. They shared no common ground in politics-Whitman, a copperhead Democrat, a bigot and no abolitionist, thought the Northern cause in the Civil War absurd. That Lincoln read and was impressed by Leaves of Grass is questioned by most scholars, yet Epstein takes it on face value. Later, moved by the tragic drama of the president's murder, Whitman wrote two elegiac poems ("When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" and "Captain, My Captain"). His subsequent "Specimen Days and Collect" included diary memoranda referring to glimpses of Lincoln around Washington, and in old age the impoverished Whitman sometimes raised money for himself by giving talks containing his reminiscences of Lincoln and wartime Washington. But the "parallels" between these two very different lives don't hold together the thread of Epstein's narrative. As well, readers well versed in the story of Whitman and his milieu during the early 1860s will be annoyed by several small errors. (Example: The New York poet and farmer Myron Benton was not a friend of Whitman's, though he was a fan of the poet's and had a mutual friend in John Burroughs.) (Feb.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Beginning with Abraham Lincoln's fascination with Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, the author uses Lincoln's activities in the nation's capital as a backdrop for the story of Whitman's life there during the Civil War. Working as a copy clerk, Whitman spent most of his free time comforting wounded Union soldiers. A dedicated Lincoln admirer, he also planned his walks around the city to coincide with the President's carriage rides, often waving to Lincoln as he watched him pass. The closest the poet came to the President was to see him from an adjoining room in the White House. As Whitman published his book of poetry Drum-Taps, Lincoln was assassinated. Whitman's grief led to his poems "When Lilacs Last in the Door-Yard Bloom'd" and "O Captain, My Captain." Both are included here, along with brief interpretations. The author's premise that there is value in juxtaposing the lives of a famous president and a poet is not supported. There is not enough evidence of a strong connection between the two men to warrant a book on the subject. Epstein (author of biographies of Aimee Semple McPherson, Nat King Cole, and Edna St. Vincent Millay, as well as a number of books of poetry) emphasizes literary aspects rather than historical ones. A marginal purchase that only libraries with Whitman collections need consider. (Illustrations not seen.)-Grant A. Fredericksen, Illinois Prairie Dist. P.L., Metamora Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Poet and biographer Epstein (What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, 2001, etc.) brings insight from both his specialties to bear on two defining figures of the Civil War era. Whitman and Lincoln never met, although the two were evidently in the same room on several occasions as the president greeted visitors to the White House while Whitman watched from an unobtrusive distance. Yet Epstein argues that the two exerted a powerful influence on one another. Lincoln reportedly read Leaves of Grass before he began his political career, and the author finds traces of Whitman's rhetoric in Lincoln's speeches. In Whitman's case, the influence has long been recognized. Several poems pay tribute to the fallen leader, and in his latter years Whitman lectured on his memories of Lincoln and on the president's place in the nation's history. In this dual biography, Epstein undertakes to suggest a closer connection. He does so largely by connecting the two men's lives in Washington during the war years, when Whitman served as a volunteer nurse to wounded Union and Confederate soldiers, supporting himself with clerical jobs for various governmental agencies. The heart of the book concerns Whitman's nursing of the wounded soldiers, for whom he felt a strong empathy. (One of them became, for a time, his lover.) His volume of war poetry, Drum Taps, grew out of his direct experience of the conflict's human cost. Whitman frequently observed Lincoln traveling around the district and was part of the crowd for several official appearances, including the Second Inaugural Address. Whether the shaggy bohemian poet made any impression on the busy president is anyone's guess; Epstein understandably speculates, but generallymanages not to overstate his case. He is at his best in his sensitive readings of Whitman's poems about Lincoln, especially the elegy "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd." Powerful and evocative. Agent: Neil Olsen