Whitman’s Reconciliation

I really enjoyed the poems we read from Drum Taps for today and found that I favored these poems over Whitman’s Inscriptions and Song of Myself.  I certainly enjoyed both of these works, but I feel that the poems in Drum Taps hold a deeper sentimental meaning, at least for me.  The frivolity and adolescence of Whitman seems to have faded away, as he matured into a much more thoughtful poet.  I do not mean to say that his other works are without thought or meaning, but the poems in Drum Taps seem to hold a deeper purpose.  Perhaps, it is just simply a different purpose.  Whitman believed that Leaves of Grass was going to stop the impending war, and when this did not happen maybe he seriously questioned his calling as a writer.  Perhaps, Whitman’s lethargic lifestyle and inability to write in the year or two leading up to the civil war was because he believed he had failed as a writer.

We learned today in class that many of the poems in Drum Taps were a response to Whitman’s first hand interactions with the afflicted soldiers during the Civil War, and I find it fascinating that through helping others Whitman was able to write again.  He may have helped those soldiers and bought them life through his long visits and presents, but I think those soldiers also gave Whitman something of great importance: a sense of being and purpose.  After dealing with the wounded he seemed to obtain a revived spirit of sorts that resulted in some deep and meaningful poems.

The poem “Reconciliation” is one of my favorites from Drum Taps.

While the poem Reconciliation is ambiguous and holds different meanings at once, much like Whitman, the poem seems to reflect Whitman’s reconciliation with his own dead self of old, and his acknowledgement that the country must move forward after the war and build anew.  Whitman is rejoicing about the fact that eventually the war will be forgotten as he writes, “Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage must in time be utterly lost.”  Whitman draws near to death in the poem, as he often did in the hospitals, and literally touches “the white face in the coffin.”  His enemy, the soldier of the rebel south, is no longer his enemy but has once again become “a man as divine as myself.”  Whitman is making a reconciliation with his own poetry which he thought had failed him, a reconciliation with his old self who believed that the ideal America could not go to war, as well as a reconciliation with the fact that sometimes death is necessary.  Death cleanses the earth, and while this image may be quite gruesome, Whitman seems to deem it as necessary.  “The sister of Death and Night” must “incessantly softly wash” the world over and over again to keep it beautiful.

I really enjoy reading this darker Whitman.  It might just be my natural emo tendencies, but I find it refreshing to hear Whitman speak about death in the manner in which he does in “Reconciliation.”

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2 Responses to Whitman’s Reconciliation

  1. Anton Vander Zee says:

    I’m with you on this more somber Whitman. Those first two lines are so striking to me, so haunting. And the second line, which you quote, resonates on so many levels. I like to read this poem next to a poem like “Beat! Beat! Drums!,” against which it reads as a strong anti-war poem. And yet there a small sense in which Whitman mourns the loss of war itself, however “beautiful” the idea of that loss remains.

    In Whitman’s poetic imagination, the war comes to play a gruesome, though necessary, part. I’m not sure how I feel about that inevitability. In any case, a sadness persists when we sense the lost utopian hope of that idea of war and all its deeds of carnage being lost to us. I certainly couldn’t imagine this transcendence of war happening in our own century, and the last century distinguished itself primarily for its unimaginable deeds of carnage.

  2. Olivia James says:

    I also love the darker Whitman, but the thing I love most about Whitman is his ability to go from uplifting, utopian poetry to dark, haunting poetry. Most poets have one universal theme throughout their poems, and I love that Whitman is able to channel so many different emotions and time periods in his life.

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