Saturday, April 30, 2011

Civil War Poetry

--In the previous poetry, Whitman asserted and struggled with his vision of himself as the bard, the poet who unified the nation. The civil war clearly signaled a crisis for Whitman as a person and a poet. He moved south and worked as a hospital aide and then worked in Washington. How do you see him changing as a poet, both in his subject matter and his presentation of his role as a poet in "Drum-Taps"?

--Melville turned to poetry after he became frustrated with the reception of his fiction and despite receiving even less attention for his poetry, stuck with writing poetry the rest of his life. What do these poems have to say about the coming of the war ("The Portent"), the waging of the war ("Utilitarian...), and what reactions to the war reflected about American culture ("The House-Top")?


  1. The entire collection seems almost as though Whitman is a wartime (and very eloquent) journalist. He documents troop movement, troop deaths, and the unknown road that the war is marching down. It’s an interesting account of the war. Much of it is recounted in present tense.

    There are three poems that I especially like. One is “A Sight in Camp,” in which the Whiteman still manages to find inspiration from a grave marker despite what it represents. In “As Toilsome,” he sees three dead soldiers representing three generations and he basically says that “beautiful people are dying”—that’s very Whitman. And lastly, “The Wound-Dresser” shows how affected Whitman has been by the war—in the poem he has a steady hand helping the wounded, but it’s clear that he is wounded from the experience. And there’s no wound-dresser for him—just the guy with the bucket following him around.

    The last poem shows how much the war has changed Whitman’s outlook. He describes the soldiers marching as “immortal ranks.” It’s not a positive finish, there’s no victory in the poem. There will always be soldiers marching. Whitman understands this; wars will just go on and on.

  2. I see Whitman as removing himself from his poetry more than ever before in Drum-Taps. It seems like he is understanding the something so much bigger than him is going on, and it would, of course, not be fitting for him to focus on himself in his poetry like he did in, say “As I Ebb’ed with the Ocean of Life”. The poems are more wide sweeping, covering scenes maybe observed by Whitman. Even when Whitman is writing in the first person, it seems obvious that he is in a personae. Like in “Virgil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night”, Whitman infuses himself into a man on the battlefield. I can help but feel sort of relived to see Whitman being so gracious in such a trying time. Maybe he had grown out of some arrogant tendencies by this time.

  3. The change in Whitman's poetry from celebration of unity to a poet whose country is undergoing a crisis is very distinct. He is much more somber in these poems and you can tell that his cheery "let's celebrate the grass" poetry days (while I enjoyed them very much) are over. He is affected by the war, and working in as an aide to the wounded was a very emotionally and mentally, difficult task, I'm sure, and this shows in his poetry.

    I, personally, was very affected by The Wound-Dresser. It is a very realistic poem that shows a different perspective than a typical war poem that one would read. I still feel like it's Whitman when I'm reading it, especially in comparison to Melville, which is important to note, because while Whitman's content has changed tremendously, he still writes in a way that makes you want to read it, regardless of the content. It's just so real. He is describing dress the soldier's wounds and just writing about what he saw. When comparing this to Melville's poetry about the civil war, I feel that his was more focused on the act of war, and the battle rather than the other views of war, which Whitman captures with his words.

    I especially liked this excerpt:

    "I onward go, I stop,
    With hinged knees and steady hand to dress wounds,
    I am firm with each, the pangs are sharp yet unavoidable,
    One turns to me his appealing eyes-poor boy! I never knew you,
    Yet I think I could not refuse this moment to die for you, if that would save you." (2280)