In the poem "Vigil Strange I Kept On The Field One Night" by Walt Whitman , the narrator tells of his son and comrade by his side falling wounded on a battlefield. They touch hands, and then the narrator rushes off to fight in the battle. When he...
In the poem "Vigil Strange I Kept On The Field One Night" by Walt Whitman, the narrator tells of his son and comrade by his side falling wounded on a battlefield. They touch hands, and then the narrator rushes off to fight in the battle. When he returns that night, his comrade is dead. The narrator keeps vigil for hours as the night passes, and then as dawn appears, he carefully bundles up his comrade in a blanket and buries him.
During the Civil War, Whitman visited his brother, who had received a slight wound, in Washington DC and then moved with compassion by the multitudes of wounded soldiers, he served as a nurse to the men. Later he compiled his poems about the war, of which "Vigil Strange I Kept On The Field One Night" is one, into a volume called Drum Taps.
There are several central or predominating ideas in this poem. One is the bond of loving comradeship. The relationship between the narrator and the fallen soldier is ambiguous. Several times he calls him "son," so it is possible that the poem is about a father-son relationship, but this is not at all clear. Historians and literary critics agree that Whitman was either homosexual or bisexual, and the man who has fallen may be the narrator's lover. This is suggested by the twice-repeated phrase of "responding kisses." Calling the fallen man "son" and "boy" may merely be a reflection of the man's younger age in comparison to the narrator. Either way, the narrator loved the dead man intensely.
Another central idea of the story is the nature of grief. The narrator obviously grieves for his fallen comrade. He manifests this by standing vigil over his body, a time he describes as "wondrous" and "sweet." Although he faithfully loved and cared for his comrade while he was living, now that he is dead, he mourns for him. His grief is also expressed in the meticulous way that he wraps up the body before putting it in the "rude-dug" grave, a task that finalizes his vigil.
Finally, another central idea in the poem concerns the losses suffered in war. The narrator is deprived of a loved one, although he adds the thought "I think we shall surely meet again." Still, in this life at least, the burial of his friend expresses a finality that would not have come about had it not been for the war.