A Sight in Camp in the Daybreak Gray and Dim

by Walt Whitman

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How would you make the implicit message of the poem "A Sight in Camp in the Dark Gray and Dim" explicit?

A sight in camp in the daybreak gray and dim,
As from my tent I emerge so early sleepless,
As slow I walk in the cool fresh air the path near by the hospital tent,
Three forms I see on stretchers lying, brought out there untended lying,
Over each the blanket spread, ample brownish woolen blanket,
Gray and heavy blanket, folding, covering all.

Curious I halt and silent stand,
Then with light fingers I from the face of the nearest the first
just lift the blanket;
Who are you elderly man so gaunt and grim, with well-gray'd hair,
and flesh all sunken about the eyes?
Who are you my dear comrade?
Then to the second I step--and who are you my child and darling?
Who are you sweet boy with cheeks yet blooming?
Then to the third--a face nor child nor old, very calm, as of
beautiful yellow-white ivory;
Young man I think I know you--I think this face is the face of the
Christ himself,
Dead and divine and brother of all, and here again he lies.

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In December 1862,  Whitman went to Virginia where he would care for his brother George,who had been wounded at the first battle of Fredericksburg. While George's wounds were minor, Whitman witnessed the horrific suffering of hundreds of soldiers.  Affected by these sights, Whitman volunteered to help care for wounded soldiers, and in the course of so doing, he was profoundly moved. His experiences wrought a tragic dimension to his poetry. 

In "A Sight in Camp in the Daybreak Gray and Dim," the speaker emerges from his tent to see "three forms...on stretchers lying" and he notices that blankets are spread over their bodies. With a melancholic curiosity, he lifts the blankets and discovers an elderly man, a youth cut down in the bloom of his young age, and then, in the face of another, the speaker perceives "a Christ-like" figure;that is, a man made a sacrificial victim;

Then to the third==a face nor child nor old, very calm, as of beautiful yellow white ivory;

Young man, I think I know you--I think this face is the face of Christ himself,

Dead and divine, and brother of all, and here again he lies.

The explicit message here is that Whitman, having seen the horrors of war, does not wish to dwell upon the war per se; instead, he selects from the older and younger soldiers the concept of the universality of human suffering. These two Confederate soldiers have been made Christlike in their deaths as they have become sacrificial victims for the cause of secession, and it is this meditation upon the human tragedy of war that is the part of the Civil War which Whitman feels will never be told to the public.  The poignancy of the heroism of the old and young soldiers is both beautiful and holy, Whitman tells his readers.  

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