Ezra Greenspan: On "Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night"

Whitman found th[e] wholesale anonymity of the dead [in the Civil War] very disturbing. He returned to the subject repeatedly in Specimen Days after the war, noting, for instance, that in one particular war cemetery only eighty-five of the bodies were identified. It is against this background that a poem like "Vigil Strange" cries out to be read. Then it can perhaps be appreciated that the emotional impulse behind the poem is partly the desire to ensure that the battlefield dead are individually recognized, remembered, and mourned. . . . It’s noteworthy that in draft form the poem referred to the dead comrade in the third-person singular, so that in altering it to the second-person singular, Whitman increased both the sense of mystery and the sense of intimacy. . . . Whitman both felt drawn toward a rapt immersion in the soldiers’ experience (as expressed in the printed version of "Vigil Strange") and impelled to mediate their experience to the civilian world (hence the style of report of the original draft form).


Title Ezra Greenspan: On "Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Ezra Greenspan Criticism Target Walt Whitman
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 01 Jun 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication "Fratricide and Brotherly Love: Whitman and the Civil War"
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