Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"The Wound Dresser" by Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman was known as the "Poet of Democracy." In 1855 he published his first edition of Leaves of Grass, a book of poems; he continued to publish throughout 1892, completing nine successive editions.

"During 1862 Whitman left Brooklyn to search for his brother George who was listed as missing after the Battle of Fredericksburg. Shocked by the plight of the wounded in Washington’s military hospitals, Walt secured a Civil Service post and, in his spare time, made nearly 600 hospital visits. These visits provided ample material for The Wound Dresser."

[Excerpt for The Wound Dresser by Walt Whitman]

Bearing the bandages, water and sponge,
Straight and swift to my wounded I go,
Where they lie on the ground, after the battle brought in;
Where their priceless blood reddens the grass, the ground;
Or to the rows of the hospital tent, or under the roof'd hospital;
To the long rows of cots, up and down, each side, I return;
To each and all, one after another, I draw near--not one do I miss;
An attendant follows, holding a tray--he carries a refuse pail,
Soon to be fill'd with clotted rags and blood, emptied and fill'd

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.)

Walt Whitman decided to write his poem on the Civil war, from the perspective of a wound dresser; this aspect of the poem is very important. Because he does this, he shifts the focus from the heroic and courageous aspects of war to the suffering of the wounded. This shift of focus is evident in the second stanza, which states "many the hardships, few the joys, yet I was content." This focus on the less courageous aspects of war substantiates Whitman's determination to confront poetry with a "rude American tongue." He is not afraid to delve into war's horrific aspects such as the "amputated hand" or the "putrid gangrene." We clearly see Whitman's social democrat traits in this poem.

1 comment:

Kirk Russell said...

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