The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Walt Whitman’s “The Artilleryman’s Vision” records the nighttime apparitions of a Civil War veteran after the war has ended. Although “the wars are over long” and this former artilleryman is lying in the safety of his own bedroom, with wife and infant nearby, the memories of fierce battles remain with him, surfacing after midnight in a nightmarish mental picture. “There in the room as I wake from sleep this vision presses upon me,” Whitman’s speaker, the artilleryman, informs us.

The vision presents the commencement of a Civil War battle in which the artilleryman has participated. The details of the battle are still sharp and precise in this former soldier’s mind. The artilleryman, whom Whitman does not identify as either a Union or a Confederate soldier, again sees the skirmishers “crawl cautiously ahead” and then hears the “t-h-t! t-h-t! of the rifle-balls.” He catches sight of “the shells exploding leaving small white clouds,” and he hears “the great shells shrieking as they pass” and the grapeshot “like the hum and whirr of wind through the trees.” The “scenes at the batteries rise in detail,” “the pride of the men in their pieces,” the careful work of the chief gunner who aims his cannon. After the cannon fires, the artilleryman “lean[s] aside and look[s] eagerly off to note the effect.”

The entire sweep of the battle appears to the insomniac artilleryman. He hears the cries of...

(The entire section is 500 words.)