Now and then, even during the summer, the teacher in me emerges. This blog is dedicated to exploring and presenting aspects of the Civil War via poetry. I’d be remiss if I didn’t share some poetry by poets who experienced the War first had. Yes, poets we’ve all learned about in school. Poets who deserve a second look. Of course, Walt Whitman comes to mind.
Here’s a Whitman poem that I found captivating. It’s a long poem, but it’s well worth the time it takes to read. Each line builds the poem’s intensity. The speaker’s dreams, visions, and horrors become your own. This poem allows me to understand why one can walk away from war, but never escape it.
Perhaps in days to come I’ll spend a bit more time on Whitman and his literary contemporaries.
The Artilleryman’s Vision
While my wife at my side lies slumbering, and the wars are over long,
And my head on the pillow rests at home, and the vacant midnight passes,
And through the stillness, through the dark, I hear, just hear, the breath of my infant,
There in the room as I wake from sleep this vision presses upon me;
The engagement opens there and then in fantasy unreal,
The skirmishers begin, they crawl cautiously ahead, I hear the irregular snap! snap!
I hear the sound of the different missiles, the short t-h-t! t-h-t! of the rifle-balls,
I see the shells exploding leaving small white clouds, I hear the great shells
shrieking as they pass,
The grape like the hum and whirr of wind through the trees (tumultuous now the
All the scenes at the batteries rise in detail before me again,
The crashing and smoking, the pride of the men in their pieces,
The chief-gunner ranges and sights his piece and selects a fuse of the right time,
After firing I see him lean aside and look eagerly off to note the effect;
Elsewhere I hear the cry of a regiment charging (the young colonel leads himself
this time with brandish’d sword),
I see the gaps cut by the enemy’s volleys (quickly fill’d up, no delay),
I breathe the suffocating smoke, then the flat clouds hover low concealing all;
Now a strange lull for a few seconds, not a shot fired on either side,
Then resumed the chaos louder than ever, with eager calls and orders of officers,
While from some distant part of the field the wind wafts to my ears a shout of
applause (some special success),
And ever the sound of the cannon far or near (rousing even in dreams a devilish
exultation and all the old mad joy in the depths of my soul),
And ever the hastening of infantry shifting positions, batteries, cavalry, moving
hither and thither,
(The falling, dying, I heed not, the wounded dripping and red I heed not, some to
the rear are hobbling),
Grime, heat, rush, aide-de-camps galloping by or on a full run,
With the patter of small arms, the warning s-s-t of the rifles (these in my vision
I hear or see),
And bombs bursting in air, and at night the vari-colour’d rockets.