“Drum-Taps: Whitman’s Problematic Legacy as a War Poet “


Walt Whitman is hailed as a democratic poet or even the poet of America; his Drum Taps and Sequel to Drum Taps, however, do not support this view since they fail to present a consistent whole in terms of their attitude and tone. The poems in these collections stand out with their evasive attitude towards naming the opponent forces fighting. Hardly does Whitman question the meaninglessness of bloodshed in the battlefield, a trait which is almost a defining characteristic of 20th century war poetry beginning with Thomas Hardy's Boer War poems and the poets of the Great War and WWII and beyond. While his 20th century counterparts refute any possibility of consolation in their war poems, Whitman allows his lyric voice to adopt a comforting tone in some of his elegiac poems such as 'Dirge for Two Veterans' where the dead soldiers are provided with all the rituals of mourning in a funeral. In the poem the fallen soldiers enjoy a nearly proper and poetic funeral with the moon acting as a presiding mother figure. His war poems especially those at the beginning of Drum Taps (for instance his apostrophic 'First O Songs for Prelude' or 'Beat! Beat! Drums!') encourage people to take part in the war without making it clear what one is supposed to fight for or against. In short, Whitman's legacy as a war poet poses a problem for his British antecedents both in its ethical and political implications.

Author Information
Fahri _z, Ankara University, Turkey

Paper Information
Conference: LibrAsia2016
Stream: Literature - Anglo-American Literature

This paper is part of the LibrAsia2016 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon