missvirginia on Oct 5th 2009
Whitman’s triumphant, mostly optimistic, and hopeful tone in his earlier work evokes a sort of nostalgic happiness. Celebrating nature, mother earth, and humanity was the “name of the game” with Whitman. He wasn’t all love and happiness, he mentions horrors of life (like the slave passing through his house and how he put salve on the wounds before the slave ran North) but always with a compatible positive note. Mostly, he combatted the mentioned distasteful situations with his positive effort to make whatever was negative better. He wrote with a tone that rang of human rights, that rang of tolerance and love, of trying to find a common denominator in everyone. The unity that he strove to find, and usually was successful in finding, became changed in Drum Taps.
The voice Whitman writes with in “First O Songs for a Prelude” is tearful, regretful, and the unifying thread for the people of which he writes about. Those people are the ones with losses that they face because of the war; the devastation, the absence of loved ones (whether dead, dying, or gone off to fight in the war), the indignation many people felt when thinking about the “enemy”. I think Whitman’s outlook of the Confederates compromised him. He and the “Angel of Marye’s Heights”, Richard Kirkland, had one thing in common; they felt in their heart of hearts that what they were doing was necessary in both aspects: war and helping humanity, humility, and love survive the cruel reality of battle. Despite the judgement they both faced, they both felt empathy for the “enemy”. While Kirkland brought water to Union soldiers on the battlefield, Whitman ,although conservatively, did mention bravery and courage when writing articles about the battles, soldiers, and sights he saw when with the regiments.
Whitman does not need to change his triumphant “songs”. In fact, that would part of his responsibility, since he was/is the self-proclaimed “Bard of America”. He needs to remain encouraging, however, the question that brings is, who should he encourage. If he encourages the South too much, Northerners might turn their back and call him a sympathizer–then his business would fail, and we all know that Whitman always had one eye on his career. If he coldly turned his shoulder on the Confederacy, I find it hard to believe he could live with himself acting that way. His triumphant tone would be for the nation BEFORE the civil war and to try and strive to gain that unification again. Thus, the triumphant tone mainly needs to shift from a triumphant “Life may be hard, but it is good” tone to a “Life is hard, only love and tolerance will get you through it” voice.
Drum Taps is a loving, vigorously working set of poetry that tugs at the heart strings and makes modern audiences question the modern day wars we are “sending our boys off to fight in”. Is there any national figure rooting for them, regardless of whether they support the war on terrorism or not? No, there is no modern day “angel” in Iraq writing home for soldiers who have their arms, hands, shoulders missing because of an IED. The nation(s) of the Civil War were lucky to have Whitman siding with any lonely boy, whether he was from Georgia, had slaves at home, or from Connecticut, and poor as dirt. The triumphant tone mainly needs to shift from a triumphant “Life may be hard, but it is good” tone to a “Life is hard, only love and tolerance will get you through it”.
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