PBS Series Examines the Civil War Through Poetry

“Arous’d and offended, I’d thought to beat the alarum, and urge relentless conflict,” wrote American poet Walt Whitman. “However quickly my fingers fail’d me, my face droop’d and I resign’d myself, To take a seat by the wounded and soothe them, or silently watch the lifeless.”

As soon as a champion of the American Civil Conflict, Whitman’s observations of the wounded and dying on either side of the battle irrevocably altered his understanding of his nation.

Now in its third season, PBS’s “Poetry in America,” which facilities on one iconic American poem every episode, examines “The Wound-Dresser,” written by the famed poet.

In 25-minute, bite-sized episodes, “Poetry in America” explores how our nation’s historical past intersects with and influences the written phrase and our understanding of what it means to be an American.

Whitman, who spent the latter half of the Civil Conflict as an unpaid nurse, was drawn to hospitals after his youthful brother, George, was wounded on the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862.

Moved by his brother’s harm—shrapnel to the chin—the kindly poet spent a whole lot of hours visiting wounded Union troopers recuperating in Washington, D.C., hospitals throughout the conflict.

Whitman was, as creator Milton Bagby writes, “extra middle-aged sweet striper than medical nurse,” but his visits remained a shiny spot for these convalescing. From his personal meager earnings, Whitman bought sweet, tobacco, fruit, and magazines for the lads and helped to jot down letters dwelling from injured troopers.

His poetry, later printed within the volumes Drum Faucets and Specimen Days, cemented his superstar standing and gave voice to the deep wound that was the American Civil Conflict that left a younger nation reeling for many years.

Eliza New hosts, and is joined by playwright Tony Kushner, composer Matthew Aucoin, and historian Drew Faust amongst others to debate how the trauma of the Civil Conflict formed American historical past.

Airing weekly on PBS, the collection is on the market to stream totally free on PoetryInAmerica.org.

Learn the total poem under:


An previous man bending I come amongst new faces,

Years wanting backward resuming in reply to kids,

Come inform us previous man, as from younger males and maidens that love me,

(Arous’d and offended, I’d thought to beat the alarum, and urge relentless conflict,

However quickly my fingers fail’d me, my face droop’d and I resign’d myself,

To take a seat by the wounded and soothe them, or silently watch the lifeless;)

Years therefore of those scenes, of those livid passions, these possibilities,

Of unsurpass’d heroes, (was one facet so courageous? the opposite was equally courageous;)

Now be witness once more, paint the mightiest armies of earth,

Of these armies so speedy so wondrous what noticed you to inform us?

What stays with you newest and deepest? of curious panics,

Of hard-fought engagements or sieges great what deepest stays?


O maidens and younger males I like and that love me,

What you ask of my days these the strangest and sudden your speaking remembers,

Soldier alert I arrive after a protracted march cowl’d with sweat and mud,

Within the nick of time I come, plunge within the struggle, loudly shout within the rush of profitable cost,

Enter the captur’d works—but lo, like a swift working river they fade,

Go and are gone they fade—I dwell not on troopers’ perils or troopers’ joys,

(Each I keep in mind properly—lots of the hardships, few the fun, but I used to be content material.)

However in silence, in goals’ projections,

Whereas the world of acquire and look and mirth goes on,

So quickly what’s over forgotten, and waves wash the imprints off the sand,

With hinged knees returning I enter the doorways, (whereas for you up there,

Whoever you might be, observe with out noise and be of sturdy coronary heart.)

Bearing the bandages, water and sponge,

Straight and swift to my wounded I am going,

The place they lie on the bottom after the battle introduced in,

The place their priceless blood reddens the grass, the bottom,

Or to the rows of the hospital tent, or beneath the roof’d hospital,

To the lengthy rows of cots up and down both sides I return,

To every and all one after one other I draw close to, not one do I miss,

An attendant follows holding a tray, he carries a refuse pail,

Quickly to be fill’d with clotted rags and blood, emptied, and fill’d once more.

I onward go, I cease,

With hinged knees and regular hand to decorate wounds,

I’m agency with every, the pangs are sharp but unavoidable,

One turns to me his interesting eyes—poor boy! I by no means knew you,

But I feel I couldn’t refuse this second to die for you, if that may prevent.


On, on I am going, (open doorways of time! open hospital doorways!)

The crush’d head I costume, (poor crazed hand tear not the bandage away,)

The neck of the cavalry-man with the bullet via and thru I study,

Laborious the respiratory rattles, fairly glazed already the attention, but life struggles onerous,

(Come candy demise! be persuaded O stunning demise!

In mercy come rapidly.)

From the stump of the arm, the amputated hand,

I undo the clotted lint, take away the slough, wash off the matter and blood,

Again on his pillow the soldier bends with curv’d neck and facet falling head,

His eyes are closed, his face is pale, he dares not look on the bloody stump,

And has not but look’d on it.

I costume a wound within the facet, deep, deep,

However a day or two extra, for see the body all wasted and sinking,

And the yellow-blue countenance see.

I costume the perforated shoulder, the foot with the bullet-wound,

Cleanse the one with a gnawing and putrid gangrene, so sickening, so offensive,

Whereas the attendant stands behind apart me holding the tray and pail.

I’m trustworthy, I don’t give out,

The fractur’d thigh, the knee, the wound within the stomach,

These and extra I costume with emotionless hand, (but deep in my breast a hearth, a burning flame.)


Thus in silence in goals’ projections,

Returning, resuming, I thread my method via the hospitals,

The harm and wounded I pacify with soothing hand,

I sit by the stressed all of the darkish night time, some are so younger,

Some endure a lot, I recall the expertise candy and unhappy,

(Many a soldier’s loving arms about this neck have cross’d and rested,

Many a soldier’s kiss dwells on these bearded lips.)


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