Whitman’s Poems – Analytical Response

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Whitman’s Poems – Analytical Response

Walt Whitman, a transcendentalist poet, directs his focus on natural harmony and beauty, which he prioritizes and demonstrates passionately. For instance, in the Leaves of Grass, a collection of his poetry and which has been edited and reprinted six times, he elaborates on his passion, love, and celebration of the soul, America’s greatness, and the human body. The onset of war played a crucial role in transforming his overall perception of nature and the society. The reality of war dawned on him upon receiving information about his brother who was wounded on the battlefield. During his visit to see his brother, the actuality of illness and death afflicting the injured soldiers in the hospital profoundly moved him and served as an inspiration to further his ambition in catering to this group as an unofficial nurse. This part of his life was influential as he embarked on developing poetry, which captured the intricacies of the Civil War. Therefore, through critically analyzing the series of poems on war, including Drum-Taps and Leaves of Grass, a more profound understanding can be established concerning Whitman’s comprehension of the correlation between self, nature, and the society. This study is an evaluation of the poetic styles applied by Whitman in relaying the message about the ability of death to encourage the society to unite, as it is a transcendental component surpassing the ideals of the society and nature.

Before the commencement of the Civil war, Whitman’s transcendental nature was seen in his strong affiliation with natural surroundings. In his literature, this connection is portrayed by the use of “I”, which has been consistently used throughout his works. His belief before the war was grounded on the inherent unification of the natural world and man, hence confirming his understanding of oneness between man and the environment. In “Poem of the Child That Went Forth, and Always Goes Forth, Forever and Forever”, Whitman reiterates about this oneness by indicating the natural appreciation of a child as he grows through days and seasons as well as years, and the full stop after “water plant with their graceful flatheads all became part of him” demonstrates the finality of his understanding (18-21). This belief in the surreal connection between nature and man was shattered when he engaged himself in the war. He established a much darker perception concerning the correlation between inseparability and togetherness. For instance, in the real life setting of the war, the concept of oneness in nature is achieved when soldiers and civilians die and their bodies decay on the field of battle, becoming one with the soil. This is also applicable to their spilled blood, whose re-absorption in the ground signifies unification with nature. Therefore, the message being relayed by Whitman concerning the dark aspects of the relationship man has with his surroundings was clearly conveyed.

In Leaves of Grass, Whitman is seen to struggle with accepting death as the norm during the Civil War, which was characterized by the endless battles, constant marching, and mass death toll. He stated that the way of life should not solely focus on death. However, he soon realized that it was the focal point in unifying the human race. For instance, “A March in the Ranks Hard Press and the Road Unknown” supports his view, depicting the routine of the soldiers, which includes mourning the death of their fellow brothers, hospital marches, and unity with the patients, nurses, and doctors. He uses sensory stimulating words like “reeks of blood” and “life preserving chemicals” to intensify death as an almost tangible notion. Whitman states, “But first I bend to the dying lad his eyes open a half-smile he gives me; / Then the eyes close, calmly close, and I speed forth to the darkness” (22-23). This moment where the poet and the patient share intimacy in the last minutes before death signify unity through the connection established at the point of demise. The manner in which this statement is narrated, using words like “speed forth” and “calmly close”, shows that Whitman was not afraid of death. He understood that it was a result of war but was also natural and inevitable for all living things. However, he did criticize the destructive tendency of war by describing it as force annihilating a person’s identity

The poet personally established his identity through nature, given his passion towards it. Through the persona of the child in “Poem of the Child that Went Forth…”, he shared a glimpse of his personality. He was also influenced by the American Heritage, which shaped his identity as well. This is depicted through his numerous praises of America’s greatness in Leaves of Grass, where he refers to its grandeur principles and values. In “Great are the Myths”, Whitman states, “Great is Liberty! Great is Equality!” (4). The repeated use of the word “Great” emphasizes his adoration for his country and pride as a component of his identity. In addition, the use of exclamation marks connotes his great admiration of the country’s magnificence that fuels his sense of belonging. However, war destroyed this image due to its negative characteristic and injustices on the affected persons. According to Whitman, war robbed the dead soldiers and civilians of their feelings, thoughts, and stories as they were left as dead, and the wounded and decayed bodies were stripped away of their identities. He signified this identity theft by using phrases like “Who are you?” in “A March in the Ranks Hard-Prest, and the Road Unknown” (9). This statement means that the corpses lacked identity, thereby supporting the perceived impact of war on the human race as depicted by Whitman.


Works Cited

Whitman, Walt. “A March in the Ranks Hard-Prest, and the Road Unknown.” Leaves of Grass, 2017, Accessed 18 May 2018.

Whitman, Walt. “A Sight in Camp in Day-Break Grey and Dim.” Leaves of Grass, 2017, Accessed 18 May 2018.

Whitman, Walt. “Great are the Myths.” Leaves of Grass, 2017, Accessed 18 May 2018.

Whitman, Walt. “Poem of the Child Who Went Forth, and Always Goes Forth, Forever and Forever.” Leaves of  Grass, 2017, Accessed 18 May 2018.

Whitman, Walt. “The Artilleryman’s Vision.” Leaves of Grass. 2017, Accessed 18 May 2018.


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