'The Dresser' by Walt Whitman

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AN old man bending, I come, among new faces,
Years looking backward, resuming, in answer to children,
Come tell us, old man, as from young men and maidens that love me;
Years hence of these scenes, of these furious passions, these
Of unsurpass'd heroes, (was one side so brave? the other was equally
Now be witness again--paint the mightiest armies of earth;
Of those armies so rapid, so wondrous, what saw you to tell us?
What stays with you latest and deepest? of curious panics,
Of hard-fought engagements, or sieges tremendous, what deepest

O maidens and young men I love, and that love me,10
What you ask of my days, those the strangest and sudden your talking
Soldier alert I arrive, after a long march, cover'd with sweat and
In the nick of time I come, plunge in the fight, loudly shout in the
rush of successful charge;
Enter the captur'd works.... yet lo! like a swift-running river, they
Pass and are gone, they fade--I dwell not on soldiers' perils or
soldiers' joys;
(Both I remember well--many the hardships, few the joys, yet I was

But in silence, in dreams' projections,
While the world of gain and appearance and mirth goes on,
So soon what is over forgotten, and waves wash the imprints off the
In nature's reverie sad, with hinged knees returning, I enter the
doors--(while for you up there,20
Whoever you are, follow me without noise, and be of strong heart.)

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

I onward go, I stop,
With hinged knees and steady hand, to dress wounds;
I am firm with each--the pangs are sharp, yet unavoidable;
One turns to me his appealing eyes--(poor boy! I never knew you,
Yet I think I could not refuse this moment to die for you, if that
would save you.)

On, on I go!--(open doors of time! open hospital doors!)
The crush'd head I dress, (poor crazed hand, tear not the bandage
The neck of the cavalry-man, with the bullet through and through, I
Hard the breathing rattles, quite glazed already the eye, yet life
struggles hard;
(Come, sweet death! be persuaded, O beautiful death!40
In mercy come quickly.)

From the stump of the arm, the amputated hand,
I undo the clotted lint, remove the slough, wash off the matter and
Back on his pillow the soldier bends, with curv'd neck, and side-
falling head;
His eyes are closed, his face is pale, (he dares not look on the
bloody stump,
And has not yet look'd on it.)

I dress a wound in the side, deep, deep;
But a day or two more--for see, the frame all wasted already, and
And the yellow-blue countenance see.

I dress the perforated shoulder, the foot with the bullet wound,50
Cleanse the one with a gnawing and putrid gangrene, so sickening, so
While the attendant stands behind aside me, holding the tray and

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

Thus in silence, in dreams' projections,
Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals;
The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand,
I sit by the restless all the dark night--some are so young;
Some suffer so much--I recall the experience sweet and sad;60
(Many a soldier's loving arms about this neck have cross'd and
Many a soldier's kiss dwells on these bearded lips.)

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Dresser by Walt Whitman: A Poetic Masterpiece

As a poet, Walt Whitman is known for his vivid descriptions of the world around him, his celebration of nature, and his exploration of the human experience. One of his lesser-known works, "The Dresser," is a beautiful example of his style and themes. This poem, written in free verse, captures the essence of a dressmaker's shop and the lives of the people who work there.

Overview and Structure

"The Dresser" is a long poem, consisting of 27 stanzas of varying lengths. The lines are free-form, without any consistent meter or rhyme scheme. The poem is structured as a series of observations, with each stanza describing a different aspect of the dressmaker's shop. The poem begins with a description of the shop itself:

A dressmaker's shop in the heart of the city,
A bright and busy place, where the air is heavy
With the scent of silk and satin, and the sound
Of sewing machines fills the air.

From there, Whitman takes us on a tour of the shop, introducing us to the people who work there and the customers who come and go. Along the way, he offers insightful observations about human nature, society, and the nature of work.

Themes and Interpretation

At its core, "The Dresser" is a meditation on the nature of work and its role in shaping our lives. Whitman portrays the dressmakers as hardworking individuals who take pride in their craft, but who are also consumed by it. They work long hours in cramped quarters, surrounded by the constant hum of machines and the endless repetition of their tasks. Despite this, they find a sense of fulfillment in their work, and take pride in the beautiful garments they create.

At the same time, Whitman is acutely aware of the toll that this kind of work can take on a person. The dressmakers are constantly surrounded by the trappings of wealth and luxury, but they themselves are trapped in a cycle of poverty and toil. They are unable to enjoy the fruits of their labor, forced to sell their creations to wealthy customers who rarely acknowledge their hard work and dedication.

Through his descriptions of the dressmaker's shop, Whitman also explores the role of women in society. The dressmakers are all women, working in a field that was traditionally dominated by men. They are skilled artisans, capable of creating beautiful and intricate garments, yet they are undervalued and underpaid. Whitman's portrayal of these women is both sympathetic and empowering, highlighting their strength and resilience in the face of adversity.

Finally, "The Dresser" is a celebration of the beauty and complexity of the world around us. Whitman's descriptions of the dressmakers, their tools, and their creations are rich and detailed, allowing the reader to fully immerse themselves in the world of the poem. Through his words, Whitman reminds us of the wonder and magic that can be found in the most ordinary things.


In "The Dresser," Walt Whitman demonstrates his mastery of free verse poetry and his ability to capture the essence of the world around him. Through his descriptions of the dressmaker's shop and its inhabitants, he explores some of the most fundamental questions of the human experience. What is the nature of work, and how does it shape our lives? How do we find meaning and fulfillment in a world that can be both beautiful and cruel? And how do we celebrate the beauty and complexity of the world around us, even in the face of adversity?

With "The Dresser," Walt Whitman offers us a rich and rewarding meditation on these themes, reminding us of the power and beauty of poetry to capture the complexities of the human experience.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Dresser by Walt Whitman is a classic poem that captures the essence of the human experience. It is a poem that speaks to the heart and soul of every individual who has ever struggled with the complexities of life. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, imagery, and symbolism used in the poem to understand its deeper meaning.

The poem begins with the speaker describing a dresser that has been in his family for generations. He describes it as a "plain old-fashioned piece" that has been passed down from his grandfather to his father and now to him. The dresser is a symbol of the continuity of life, the passing down of traditions and values from one generation to the next.

The speaker then goes on to describe the contents of the dresser, which include "old letters, books, and pictures." These items are also symbols of the past, of memories and experiences that have been preserved and passed down through the generations. They are a reminder of the people who came before us and the lives they lived.

As the poem progresses, the speaker begins to reflect on his own life and the struggles he has faced. He describes himself as a "weary soul" who has been "buffeted by the winds of fate." This imagery of being tossed about by the winds of fate is a powerful metaphor for the unpredictability of life. It speaks to the idea that we are all at the mercy of circumstances beyond our control.

The speaker then turns his attention to the dresser once again, describing it as a "silent witness" to all the joys and sorrows of his family's life. This personification of the dresser as a witness is a powerful image that speaks to the idea that objects can hold memories and emotions. It also reinforces the idea that the past is always present, even if we cannot see it.

The poem then takes a turn as the speaker begins to reflect on his own mortality. He describes himself as a "fading leaf" and wonders what will become of him when he is gone. This is a universal theme that speaks to the fear of death and the desire for immortality. It is a reminder that we are all mortal and that our time on this earth is limited.

The final stanza of the poem is a powerful reflection on the human experience. The speaker describes the dresser as a "symbol of life" and a "monument of love." This imagery reinforces the idea that objects can hold meaning and significance beyond their physical form. It also speaks to the idea that love is the most enduring legacy we can leave behind.

In conclusion, The Dresser by Walt Whitman is a powerful poem that speaks to the human experience. It is a reminder of the continuity of life, the passing down of traditions and values from one generation to the next. It is also a reflection on the unpredictability of life and the fear of death. But ultimately, it is a celebration of love and the enduring legacy that it leaves behind. This poem is a timeless classic that will continue to resonate with readers for generations to come.

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