'Virgil Strange I Kept On The Field' by Walt Whitman
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VIGIL strange I kept on the field one night:
When you, my son and my comrade, dropt at my side that day,
One look I but gave, which your dear eyes return'd, with a look I
shall never forget;
One touch of your hand to mine, O boy, reach'd up as you lay on the
Then onward I sped in the battle, the even-contested battle;
Till late in the night reliev'd, to the place at last again I made my
Found you in death so cold, dear comrade--found your body, son of
responding kisses, (never again on earth responding;)
Bared your face in the starlight--curious the scene--cool blew the
Long there and then in vigil I stood, dimly around me the battlefield
Vigil wondrous and vigil sweet, there in the fragrant silent
But not a tear fell, not even a long-drawn sigh--Long, long I gazed;
Then on the earth partially reclining, sat by your side, leaning my
chin in my hands;
Passing sweet hours, immortal and mystic hours with you, dearest
comrade--Not a tear, not a word;
Vigil of silence, love and death--vigil for you my son and my
As onward silently stars aloft, eastward new ones upward stole;
Vigil final for you, brave boy, (I could not save you, swift was your
I faithfully loved you and cared for you living--I think we shall
surely meet again;)
Till at latest lingering of the night, indeed just as the dawn
My comrade I wrapt in his blanket, envelop'd well his form,
Folded the blanket well, tucking it carefully over head, and
carefully under feet;20
And there and then, and bathed by the rising sun, my son in his
grave, in his rude-dug grave I deposited;
Ending my vigil strange with that--vigil of night and battlefield
Vigil for boy of responding kisses, (never again on earth
Vigil for comrade swiftly slain--vigil I never forget, how as day
I rose from the chill ground, and folded my soldier well in his
And buried him where he fell.
Editor 1 Interpretation
Walt Whitman's Virgil Strange I Kept On The Field: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation
Walt Whitman is one of the most significant poets in American literature. His works are characterized by his unique style, free verse, and his exploration of the human condition. One of his notable works is "Virgil Strange I Kept On The Field," a poem about the aftermath of the American Civil War. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we shall delve into the themes, style, and meaning of the poem.
Overview of the Poem
"Virgil Strange I Kept On The Field" is a free-verse poem with no specific meter or rhyme scheme. It is based on the experiences of a Civil War veteran who struggles to come to terms with the horror of the battlefield. The poem is divided into two stanzas, the first being a recollection of the war, and the second, the veteran's present state.
One of the main themes of the poem is the horror of war. Whitman describes the battlefield as a place of death and destruction, where the earth is stained with blood and the air is filled with the stench of death. The opening lines of the poem are particularly striking:
"Virgil, dead on the field of battle,
Where your body fell howls around."
The use of the word "howls" to describe the wind evokes a sense of mourning and grief. The poem also highlights the physical and psychological toll of war on soldiers. Whitman portrays the veteran as someone who is haunted by the memories of the war, unable to forget the horrors he witnessed. The second stanza of the poem is particularly poignant:
"And now months after,
One eye gone so I cannot see,
The other eye too near gone
For large and dim'd dilated pupils,
Deaf in one ear, and worse off there than in eyes,
Limbs supplanted and new ones added,
I feel the ripest fruit of all is not the common
Human things, nor the common aims in life,
But something rare and more advanced, of earth or heaven."
The veteran's physical impairment serves as a metaphor for the psychological trauma he experienced during the war. Whitman suggests that the veteran has gained a new perspective on life, one that is more profound than the common goals of society.
Another theme that emerges from the poem is the idea of sacrifice. Whitman portrays the veteran as a hero who has made a great sacrifice for his country. However, the poem also suggests that this sacrifice comes at a great cost. The veteran is physically and mentally scarred, and his life is forever changed by his experiences on the battlefield. The poem asks us to consider the true cost of war and the sacrifices made by those who fight in them.
One of the most striking aspects of the poem is Whitman's use of free verse. The lack of a specific rhyme scheme or meter gives the poem a sense of spontaneity and naturalness. This style is particularly effective in conveying the chaos of the battlefield and the psychological turmoil of the veteran.
Another notable feature of the poem is its use of repetition. The phrase "Virgil strange" is repeated throughout the poem, serving as a refrain that underscores the sense of loss and mourning. The repetition of this phrase also suggests that the veteran is struggling to come to terms with the reality of war and its aftermath.
Finally, the poem makes use of vivid imagery to convey the horror of war. Whitman's use of words such as "bloody," "broken," and "mangled" creates a vivid picture of the battlefield and its aftermath. The use of sensory details such as the smell of blood and the sound of howling wind also contributes to the sense of realism in the poem.
"Virgil Strange I Kept On The Field" is a powerful poem that explores the psychological and physical toll of war. The poem suggests that war is a destructive force that leaves lasting scars on those who fight in it. However, it also suggests that there is something profound and rare that can be gained from the experience of war.
The poem's use of free verse and repetition creates a sense of urgency and immediacy, underscoring the sense of loss and mourning that permeates the poem. Whitman's vivid imagery serves to further emphasize the horror of war and the toll it takes on those who fight in it.
In conclusion, "Virgil Strange I Kept On The Field" is a significant work of American literature that explores the theme of war and its aftermath. Whitman's use of free verse, repetition, and vivid imagery creates a powerful and haunting work that continues to resonate with readers today.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Walt Whitman's "Virgil Strange I Kept On The Field" is a classic poem that captures the essence of war and its aftermath. The poem is a tribute to the soldiers who fought in the American Civil War and the sacrifices they made for their country. Whitman's use of vivid imagery and powerful language creates a haunting and emotional experience for the reader.
The poem begins with the speaker describing a battlefield where the dead and wounded soldiers lie. The speaker is searching for someone, and he comes across a soldier who is still alive. The soldier is in a state of shock and is unable to speak. The speaker stays with the soldier, holding his hand and comforting him until he dies.
The poem is divided into three parts, each of which explores a different aspect of war. The first part focuses on the physical and emotional toll of war on the soldiers. The second part explores the aftermath of war and the impact it has on the families of the soldiers. The third part is a reflection on the meaning of war and the sacrifices that were made.
In the first part of the poem, Whitman vividly describes the horrors of war. He uses powerful language to convey the physical and emotional pain that the soldiers experience. The speaker describes the "bloody spurts" and "gurgling blood" that are a constant presence on the battlefield. He also describes the emotional toll that war takes on the soldiers, saying that they are "dazed and stunned" and "mute and despairing."
Whitman's use of imagery is particularly effective in this section of the poem. He describes the soldiers as "pale, lifeless forms" and "ghastly pale." These images create a sense of horror and despair that is palpable. The reader can almost feel the weight of the dead and wounded soldiers on the battlefield.
In the second part of the poem, Whitman shifts his focus to the families of the soldiers. He describes the grief and pain that they experience when they learn that their loved ones have been killed in battle. The speaker describes a mother who is "wild with despair" and a father who is "stunned and silent."
Whitman's use of language in this section is particularly powerful. He describes the families as being "stricken" and "bereaved." These words convey a sense of loss and sadness that is almost overwhelming. The reader can feel the pain of the families as they try to come to terms with the loss of their loved ones.
In the third part of the poem, Whitman reflects on the meaning of war and the sacrifices that were made. He asks the question, "What is it, then, between us?" and answers it by saying that it is "death." He goes on to say that the soldiers who died in battle did so for a cause that was greater than themselves. They gave their lives for their country and for the freedom of others.
Whitman's use of language in this section is particularly poignant. He describes the soldiers as being "heroes" and "martyrs." These words convey a sense of honor and respect for the sacrifices that were made. The reader can feel the weight of the soldiers' sacrifice and the importance of their cause.
Overall, "Virgil Strange I Kept On The Field" is a powerful and emotional poem that captures the essence of war and its aftermath. Whitman's use of vivid imagery and powerful language creates a haunting and emotional experience for the reader. The poem is a tribute to the soldiers who fought in the American Civil War and the sacrifices they made for their country. It is a reminder of the horrors of war and the importance of honoring those who have given their lives for a greater cause.
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