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This poem treats of the feelings of a soldier for his fallen “son,” a very human, compassionate connection with the other men “of flesh and bone” in the battle. The narrator returns to the body after the day’s fighting is over: “Long there and then in vigil I stood, dimly around me the battle-field spreading” and expresses both his grief and his understanding that his comrade still smiles, even though not on this earth. Larger than just a war loss, the poem expresses the contemplation that occuirs with any loss, the grief mixed with an understanding of how the world works. The narrator’s calmness (and there is no doubt that the narrator is Whitman himself) lends a dignity and a complexity to the emotions of experiencing the death of any man, although set in a Civil War environment. The imagery suggests putting a child to sleep at night, “tucking him in” so to speak.
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