Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
During the Civil War, Whitman served as a nurse in hospitals for wounded soldiers in Washington, D.C. He never experienced combat on the battlefield, but he heard from the veterans whom he treated tales of the horrors of combat. Whitman puts to use the soldiers’ stories in “The Artilleryman’s Vision” and other Drum-Taps poems. The Drum-Taps collection comprises forty-three poems that take the reader from the war’s beginnings in 1861, through the conflict, and toward its conclusion four years later. Some of the final poems of the collection present the hope of reconciliation between the warring sides in the bloody conflict that resulted in the loss of more than 600,000 lives.
In “The Artilleryman’s Vision,” however, Whitman suggests that the war will not be forgotten quickly. The memories of battle remain with Whitman’s speaker long after the conflict has ended. They interrupt the artilleryman’s attempt to resume a normal life after he has been mustered out of the armed service. He has a wife, an infant child, and a home, but the memories of war intrude upon the peace that he has attempted to create in his postwar life. Perhaps these nighttime visions will continue to break the artilleryman’s peaceful sleep for the rest of his life.
In this poem, Whitman shows that he was aware that wartime memories can continue to haunt a veteran long after the fighting has stopped. Twentieth century psychologists used...
(The entire section is 395 words.)
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