What are the central ideas of the poem "Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night" by Walt Whitman?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Throughout the poem "Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field one Night," Whitman illustrates a soldier reminiscing about his friend's death in battle and describes how the soldier had to bury his friend on the same night. Whitman explores the ideas of death, peace, eternity, friendship, compassion, and love throughout the poem. When the soldier returns to his friend on the battlefield to find him dead, the soldier holds a vigil. The soldier's calm demeanor suggests that he is contemplating the cycle of life and death. He is at peace with the fact that his friend has passed away and displays his compassion by holding a vigil for the dead soldier on the battlefield. The soldier also expresses his love for his fallen comrade and mentions that one day he will meet with him again. This statement suggests that the soldier believes in an afterlife where he will see his friend again. Whitman also illustrates how war creates intimate bonds between soldiers and depicts their relationships throughout the poem. Holding a vigil for a fallen comrade is a striking image that portrays a range of emotions and concepts that can be examined independently. 

wordprof eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.