Walt Whitman Questions and Answers

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What is the theme of Walt Whitman's poem "Reconciliation"?  

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Wallace Field eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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One major theme of the poem is revealed by the one-word title: reconciliation. The speaker refers to it as "Word over all, beautiful as the sky!" Reconciliation, then, the action of restoring something to a state of harmony—often a relationship—is one of the most wonderful things in the world, as "beautiful as the sky!" The narrator marvels at the beauty of forgetting, when war and all the terrible we do to one another during war are "lost" to time as "Death and Night" seem to cleanse our memories of whatever wrongdoing we once perceived. Whatever actions or events that caused the speaker to feel that the man in the coffin was his "enemy" have now been put aside, and he kisses this man's dead face: all enmity is gone—undone, it seems, by the man's death. In other words, to put it more broadly, death and night (or the passage of time), help us to forget the antagonisms and hurts of the past, and this, the possibility of reaching reconciliation with even our biggest adversaries is a marvel.

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mrs-campbell eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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A main theme is the travesty of death that occurs in war.  In the peom Whitman laments over the fact that "my enemy is dead, a man divine as myself is dead"; he steps over the boundaries of war and enemies to mourn the death of a man.  Forget the fact that he was an enemy; he was a man, just like Whitman himself.  And essentially, that is what war is-killing other people that are much like ourselves.  It is a sad truth of war.  Whitman mourns it, and standing over his coffin, he states, "I...draw near, bend down and touch lightly with my lips the white face in the coffin," giving a big of respect and homage to the man who he killed in war.  He respects him by mourning his death in the first place, then placing a kiss on the face, as a kind-of apology.

War is something that happens often in our world, and Whitman recognizes this, that "carnage must in time be utterly lost" as "Death and Night incessantly wash again, and ever again, this soil'd world."  He is saying that carnage happens, but death and continuing time washes it away.  But he is still left there to mourn the enemy he killed.

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