• Not a critical or scholarly text but a reading text for a seminar

  • Gratefully adapted from various web sources

Walt Whitman

Selected Poetry

The Wound-Dresser


Whitman Style Sheet

Poe, Dickinson, Whitman compared

Whitman (1819-92)

Questions: 1. Whitman is too great a poet to pigeonhole, but how may his poetry reflect its time-period of late Romanticism, bordering on early Realism?

2. What characteristics of Whitman's style? Or, how can you tell this is a poem by Walt Whitman?

3. Compare this poem's form as "free verse" or "formal verse" with poems by Poe and Dickinson (and other poems by Whitman). (comparing Poe, Dickinson, Whitman)

The Wound-Dresser

[1.1]    An old man bending I come among new faces,
[1.2]    Years looking backward resuming in answer to children,
[1.3]    Come tell us old man, as from young men and maidens that love me,
[1.4]    (Arous'd and angry, I'd thought to beat the alarum, and urge relentless war,    [alarum = call to arms]
[1.5]    But soon my fingers fail'd me, my face droop'd and I resign'd myself,
[1.6]    To sit by the wounded and soothe them, or silently watch the dead;)
[1.7]    Years hence of these scenes, of these furious passions, these chances,
[1.8]    Of unsurpass'd heroes, (was one side so brave? the other was equally brave;)  [<equalizing self & other]
[1.9]    Now be witness again, paint the mightiest armies of earth,
[1.10]  Of those armies so rapid so wondrous what saw you to tell us?
[1.11]  What stays with you latest and deepest? of curious panics,
[1.12]  Of hard-fought engagements or sieges tremendous what deepest remains?

[2.1]    O maidens and young men I love and that love me,
[2.2]    What you ask of my days those the strangest and sudden your talking recalls,
[2.3]    Soldier alert I arrive after a long march cover'd with sweat and dust,               [<Whitman adopts dramatic persona]
[2.4]    In the nick of time I come, plunge in the fight, loudly shout in the rush of successful charge,
[2.5]    Enter the captur'd works—yet lo, like a swift-running river they fade,                   [works = fortifications]
[2.6]    Pass and are gone they fade—I dwell not on soldiers' perils or soldiers' joys,
[2.7]    (Both I remember well—many the hardships, few the joys, yet I was content.)

[2.8]    But in silence, in dreams' projections,
[2.9]    While the world of gain and appearance and mirth goes on,
[2.10]  So soon what is over forgotten, and waves wash the imprints off the sand,
[2.11]  With hinged knees returning I enter the doors, (while for you up there,       [hinged = bending > stooping]
[2.12]  Whoever you are, follow without noise and be of strong heart.)

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

[2.22]  I onward go, I stop,
[2.23]  With hinged knees and steady hand to dress wounds,
[2.24]  I am firm with each, the pangs are sharp yet unavoidable,
[2.25]  One turns to me his appealing eyes—poor boy! I never knew you,
[2.26]  Yet I think I could not refuse this moment to die for you, if that would save you.    [Romantic sacrifice]

[3.1]    On, on I go, (open doors of time! open hospital doors!)
[3.2]    The crush'd head I dress, (poor crazed hand tear not the bandage away,)      [realistic details]
[3.3]    The neck of the cavalry-man with the bullet through and through examine,
[3.4]    Hard the breathing rattles, quite glazed already the eye, yet life struggles hard,
[3.5]    (Come sweet death! be persuaded O beautiful death!
[3.6]    In mercy come quickly.)

[3.7]    From the stump of the arm, the amputated hand,                                     [realistic details]
[3.8]    I undo the clotted lint, remove the slough, wash off the matter and blood,
[3.9]    Back on his pillow the soldier bends with curv'd neck and side falling head,
[3.10]  His eyes are closed, his face is pale, he dares not look on the bloody stump,
[3.11]  And has not yet look'd on it.

[3.12]  I dress a wound in the side, deep, deep,
[3.13]  But a day or two more, for see the frame all wasted and sinking,
[3.14]  And the yellow-blue countenance see.

[3.15]  I dress the perforated shoulder, the foot with the bullet-wound,         [perforated = pierced with holes]
[3.16]  Cleanse the one with a gnawing and putrid gangrene, so sickening, so offensive,
[3.17]  While the attendant stands behind aside me holding the tray and pail.

[3.18]  I am faithful, I do not give out,
[3.19]  The fractur'd thigh, the knee, the wound in the abdomen,                   [realistic details]
[3.20]  These and more I dress with impassive hand, (yet deep in my breast a fire, a burning flame.)

[4.1]    Thus in silence in dreams' projections,
[4.2]    Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals,
[4.3]    The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand,
[4.4]    I sit by the restless all the dark night, some are so young,
[4.5]    Some suffer so much, I recall the experience sweet and sad,     [Romanticism beyond here & now]
[4.6]    (Many a soldier's loving arms about this neck have cross'd and rested,
[4.7]    Many a soldier's kiss dwells on these bearded lips).                    [Romanticism beyond here & now]