Allison for Oct. 6

Here’s the cliche (maxim/adage/saying/whatever) running through my mind while reading Reynolds’ article and relating it to this week’s questions: blessing in disguise. Reynolds’ reminds us that even though the Civil War was horrible, many good things came of it; things that Walt Whitman, being the saucy prophet he is, desired and foresaw with a sense of optimism. Perhaps better than my lame cliche is Reynolds little golden nugget at the very beginning of My Book and War Are One:  “[The Civil War] cleared the atmosphere like a thunderstorm” (413). Whitman might have changed stylistically, but no amount of darkness can fully smother his brightness; even within the gloomy Drum Taps there remains glimmers of Whitman’s optimism.

Reading Drum Taps there were two poems in particular that seemed non sequitur to me, City of Ships and Give Me the Splendid Sun. Next to these two poems I have scribbled excitedly “old school Walt” in pencil, feeling refreshed by the return of “O”s, exclamation marks, repetition, and lines like, “O such for me! O an intense life, full to repletion and varied!” (447). Even surrounded by death and violence, Whitman continues to muse about all the differing beauties between nature and the city. It’s almost as if these poems are his own personal escape, his “me” time, if you will. Some times he even takes a breather within the same poem, some of his more macabre poems contain their own, small “old school Walt” moments. For instance, in The Wound-Dresser, there are intermittent intermissions amongst the strenuous listing of a nurse’s duty to proclaim, “O maidens and young men I love and love me” (443), and then closes the poem with this sentiment, “(many a soldier’s loving arms about this neck have cross’d and rested, many a soldier’s kiss dwells on these bearded lips)” (445).  No matter the circumstance, Walt always seems to make time to appreciate the men around him… especially when they’re dusty.

Walt Whitman was a lover, not a fighter (I’m full of cliches today!); his passion for the masculine form and sensuality may not be as raw and zealous as it is in 1855, but it is undoubtedly present in Drum Taps. My personal favorite man-crush moment takes place within a set of parenthesis in First O Songs for a Prelude: “how good they look as they tramp down to the river, sweaty, with their guns on their shoulders!” (417). Here, also, is where he first divulges his minor dust fetish. All dust aside, these brief sensual and/or loving moments serve as a glimpse into momentary humanizing instances, however short-lived or fleeting or perhaps mentally constructed they might have been. There is also that sense perhaps Walt might have optimistically said to himself one day while watching sweaty, dusty men march past, “well, war is awful and I’m exhausted… but check out those hotties!”

I’m half kidding, of course.

Whitman seems to take war, digest it, and spit it back out optimistically. Reynolds comments that Whitman was such a unique war poet because he did not often express partisanship. To avoid partisanship in any war, let alone the Civil War, is difficult for the author and  frustrating to readers. However, more important to Whitman than politics was the “big picture” and his role in putting the pieces of America together (explaining why he was so enamored with Lincoln). The Civil War provided a force that could have never been generated by one man or one book of poems, and Whitman seems pleased to simply be a part of the progress. Even the most sorrowful times, Whitman’s songs remain triumphant.

  1. Avatar of cirvine1965

    #1 by cirvine1965 on October 4, 2009 - 10:12 pm

    I really liked your post, I got excited too when an “O!” would pop up and I’d once again be able to picture sneaky ‘ole Walt, stealing looks at all those cute soldiers. And I think you’re right about the war being a blessing in disguise in a way. Walt wrote about the complacency that he believed drove America to rip itself apart, I think that Walt had a similar experience himself. It’s easy to see beauty when you’re hanging out in the woods all day, but a Civil War hospital is a such a drastically different atmosphere, if he could do his thing there then he could surely do it anywhere.

  2. Avatar of Mara Scanlon

    #2 by Mara Scanlon on October 6, 2009 - 11:30 am

    Courtney’s comment reminds me of those moments in Memoranda when Whitman asserts that the hospital somehow is, itself, America, a microcosm.

    Cliche I was ready for. Thinking about Michael Jackson and Walt Whitman together, I was not.

(will not be published)

Skip to toolbar