Posted by: Erin Longbottom | 5th Oct, 2009

Erin for 10/6

A lot of what I was thinking about this week had to do with how Whitman compares to other civil war poets. Since my presentation this week is on “other civil war poetry” I’ve been reading Drum-Taps with the other poets in mind. It’s still weird to me how often times Whitman seems like he’s on a completely different plane from everyone else. Stylistically and with subject matter, he’s in a league of his own.

Meg and I have noticed that most people writing civil war poetry were not writing from a position of experience, but most likely from their lazy boys by the fire. A lot of their poetry had to do with glorifying the war cause and trying to inspire people to go to battle. The most prominent writers were never involved in the war.

When I was reading “Song of the Banner at Daybreak” it seemed like a pretty direct criticism of those people. The pennant, calling the child to war and yet having nothing to do with the war in and of itself is saddening in a way. Especially with the father, trying desperately to make the child understand that the war isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, is a sad contrast.  Hardly any writers at the time seemed to be pointing out the utter pointlessness and brutality of the fighting going on, but Whitman went ahead and put it out there. “The Wound Dresser” is also a very direct attempt to portray the violence of the war. It’s almost like he’s using shock value to get his point across.

I also thought it was interesting how in several poems Whitman inserts direct speakers, something I hadn’t seen before. Perhaps this is an attempt to legitimize the points he’s attempting to make?

I definitely have a new respect for what Whitman was doing during this time period. Also, I would like to say that his poetry is LOADS better than a lot of other civil war writings we’ve come across. The awful rhyming…just awful. Also sometimes sickeningly patriotic, especially when considering how all these young boys were dying and people thought it was all for the glory of the union…just…ugh. So kudos to Whitman for stepping away from his grand vision of America to point out that this killing is senseless, yo.


I don’t have anything profound to say, but I love your last paragraph.


An interesting question is, can women write about war (or I should say, could women write about war before the current wars when they see action?) If so, can they only do so from their position in the hospitals, as grieving mothers/wives/sisters, as displaced civilians? This is something we think about a lot in my Women and Modernism class because of the devastation of WWI and how gender plays into our sense of witness/authority.

That is a nice plug for GynoMod…. 😉

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