The Consequences and Comparisons of War in Whitman and Komunyakaa

War, in the history of humanity, is a uniting and dividing force.  War is desperate, and sickening things occur during wartime.  The people who participate either seem to fall under the weight of it all or grow stronger because of it.  These participants strive to find hope in the small things that make understanding war easier, and dealing with war more approachable.  One can say that poetry is a method for catharsis, and for Walt Whitman and Yusef Komunyakaa, poetry answers that difficult equation of dealing with it.  Walt Whitman grew while embracing his role as a wound-dresser and caretaker during the Civil War.  His experiences gave him insight in to personal suffering, similar to Yusef Komunyakaa’s observations of some particularly inhumane acts during the Vietnam war.  Within the 58, 022 names on the Vietnam Memorial, Yusef Komunyakaa sees all of the loss of war, within a masculine war world in need of a female touch.  Within the faces of the men he cared for, North or South, Whitman viewed the destruction of war as a mother would.  Komunyakaa calls Whitman’s poetry “cosmic and carnal” and that he strives to “achieve a voice just as inclusive as his” and within this inclusiveness are the voices of all those that both Komunyakaa and Whitman spoke for (Collins 12).  Between the masculine and feminine world lies a poetic hand that creates an open page of cathartic reflection and care.

Particular to Whitman and Komunyakaa’s poetry of war is that of the outward experience of another being, observed and reflected on.  In his poetry and specifically in Dien Cai Dau Komunyakaa often gives the voice of his poems to a character experiencing war, separate from himself.  Before writing the poems in Dien Cai Dau Komunyakaa believes he “resist[ed] those memories,” and that he hadn’t “adequately dealt, both psychologically and emotionally” with the memories (Baer 6).  Komunyakaa has said he had planned on being a photographer, and with this in mind, his poetry began to create “a composite of meaning images” and in Dien Cai Dau that those images often “comprise incidents…allow[ing] readers who’ve had not personal awareness of such experiences, even more to hold on to” (Baer 7)

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