Dramatic Recitation Of Walt Whitman Poem To Be Held At Jackson Center

A dramatic recitation of one of Walt Whitman’s poems will be held at the Jackson Center, helping to commemorate the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s death. Submitted photo

A dramatic recitation of one of Walt Whitman’s famous poems, “When Lilacs Last In The Dooryard Bloom’d” will be held Saturday, the anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

The poem will be read by Paul Leone, on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Robert H Jackson Center, 305 E. Fourth St. Advanced tickets are available for $5 at Art Cloth and Craft, 108 E. Third St., Jamestown or 3943 Route 394, Mayville. Tickets will also be available at the door for $8.

Leone is a writer with publications relevant to the area, including his most popular book of short stories, “Chautauqua Ghosts”.

Leone said Whitman’s poem is a sad poem, written in remembrance of the death of Abraham Lincoln on April 15, 1865. This recitation is to commemorate the 159th anniversary of Lincoln’s death.

The context of the poem comes from Whitman having a habit of visiting the sick and injured in the hospital in Washington DC during the war. He would come and do things like write letters for the soldiers and comfort them. He did this because his brother was injured during the war.

On the day Lincoln was assassinated, Leone said Whitman had returned to New York City where he lived and the poem is a reflection of his grief after hearing the news.

“He was a lover of Lincoln and when he got word that Lincoln had been assassinated he went into a profound grief and wrote the poem,” Leone said. “It’s a hymn to his grief and love.”

A lot of Whitman’s poems have a theme of the connection between love and death, Leone said, and share many of the same elements. One of these elements is birds, and for this specific poem Whitman includes a hermit thrush. The smell of the lilacs and the song of the thrush return each April with the spring and the anniversary of Lincoln’s death, reminding Whitman of his grief.

Leone will be reading one other poem at the event to help round out the night, one where Whitman is remembering himself as a child listening to mockingbirds and understanding his destiny as a poet. Connecting to the same theme, this poem shows the female mockingbird laying eggs and then leaving the nest and the male mockingbird’s grief at the realization she is gone. In both poems Whitman translates the bird song and uses it to understand grief and joy.

Leone has done dramatic recitations of poems in the past and said he does them because of his love for poetry.

“I am trying in my own way to make the activity of poetry recitation into an art form,” Leone said. “Any poem that affects me emotionally I am drawn to and I have committed many to memory.”

Leone likes to read long, narrative poems and often does his recitations with music, though that will not be the case for the upcoming event. He added that reading Whitman’s lilac poem is a ritual for him that helps to commemorate the anniversary of Lincoln’s death, which he said is an important part of America’s history.

Leone said that people should come to the event to experience an art form they might not have experienced before.

“This is an art form that most people have not experienced,” Leone said. “I would also like people to come to help make this historic event more prominent in the public consciousness and to make the poetry of Whitman more available.”

Because of the emotional nature of the lilac poem, Leone said there will also be a reception afterwards with coffee and cookies.

“It’s an emotional poem for both me and the audience and is one that leaves you with a formal feeling so it is nice to have time to talk and visit afterwards,” Leone said.


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