Betsy Errkila: On "Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night"
The intense bonds of compassion, comradeship, and love that Whitman witnessed and formed among the soldiers were a source of democratic sustenance amid the blood-drenched scenes of war. These loving bonds formed by men at war also gave Whitman a positive language and social form in which to experience and articulate his own homosexual desire. In the poems of Drum-Taps the lover of the Calamus poems becomes the soldier-comrade and wound-dresser ("Many a soldier's kiss dwells on these bearded lips"), thus heightening the lyric intensity and emotional immediacy of several of the war poems.
Whitman's "undertone of sweetest comradeship & human love" is particularly strong in the elegy "Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night," where in the starlight illuminating the darkened landscape of war, the poet-soldier buries his "dear comrade" and "son of responding kisses" in a private ritual of mourning and love. Modulating formal control with a tone of uttermost woe, Whitman's "strange" vigil suggests that it was the loving affection among men--released and allowed in a wartime context--that enabled him to rise from the "chill ground" of the battlefield and conduct his own burial of the dead in the poems of Drum-Taps and Sequel.
"Bold, cautious, true, and my loving comrade," Whitman's common soldier is more than a soldier of war in Drum-Taps. He is a figure of democratic--and homosexual--humanity marching the "untried roads" of the future.
|Title||Betsy Errkila: On "Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night"||Type of Content||Criticism|
|Criticism Author||Betsy Erkkila||Criticism Target||Walt Whitman|
|Criticism Type||Poet||Originally Posted||14 May 2020|
|Publication Status||Excerpted Criticism||Publication||Whitman the Political Poet|
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