Erin M. for Oct 13th

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A True Account of War

The section of Whitman’s specimen days that we read for today provided us with a direct first hand account of war. Whitman told us of the lives of the soldiers, of his work as a nurse in the hospitals and on the field. He even provided us with a glimpse of the socio- politcal climate during wartime all while preserving the humanity of the experince, as always. Whitman titles this collection Specimen Days and at first glance a reader might think the title serves as a remembrance of the lost soliders (as in their bodies as specimens), which is a perfectly accurate reading of the title, but I think Whitman views the journal entries themselves as specimens. Every moment of the war that he saw fit to record was one that he saw as meaningful enough to take the time to analyze and think about in order to record his thoughts on the matter; just as a scientists analyzes various materials in a lab, Whitman analyzed the moments of battle and compiled his findings, his moments of humanity in Specimen Days.

In the entry titled “Contemptous Feeling” (731) Whitman mentions a conversation with the mayor of Brooklyn  in which the mayor said he “hoped the Southern fire-eaters would commit some overt act of resistance . . . but he was afraid they would never have the pluck to really do anything” (Whitman 731). Well, by recording his account of the war Whitman did do something he made sure there was a record of his history and his feelings about it. Today, I believe that most of our generation are politically apathetic, at least more so than previous generations, but Whitman reminds us here of the importance of our country and being active in the political process. It was during Whitman’s time that our country as it stands was formed.

But, as with all of Whitman’s writings, for me it is the human element that stands out the most. yes, there are accounts of battles, but the passages I found most notable were: “Unamed Remains the Bravest Soldier” (Whitman 748), “Home-made music” (755)”Death of a Hero” (768), “Deserters” (771), “Burial of a Lady Nurse”(778) and “Convulsivness” (799). I chose these works because they sort of encapsulate the emotional response to war. Whitman recognizes and honors the unknown casualties in unamed remains. The death of a young, but truly fearless soldier who mourns those he’s killed is dealt with in Death of a hero, while Deserters deals with the men that thought the could handle the fight, but found they were unable to, which reminds us how much the men who actually did fight were heros. In “Home-made music”, we are reminded of the things we do for comfort and relief. Everyone coming together and singing allows them to forget for a moment that they are at war. Burial of a Lady Nurse (and the following entry “Female Nurses for Soldiers”) expresses not only how important nurses were in the military, but the fact that Whitman is giving them attention in his account shows their importance in general is growing just a bit, it seems. War is definitely a masculine arena, so I felt it important to acknowledge that women were even recognized at all, even if it is just for the caring and nurturing touch as Whitman puts it. And finally, “Convulsiveness” is the single word that Whitman chose to sum up his account and it represents so many things here and is such an accurate choice. Society as a whole is shaken when we are part of a war, the energy on the battlefield I’d imagine can definitely be described as convulsive, but it’s also a word I might use when describing a grieving mother, or family or even fellow solider. So, in one word, Whitman was able to capture the energy of war itself and even the feelings of both society and the individual.

5 Responses to “Erin M. for Oct 13th”

  1. Mara Scanlon Says:
    Avatar of Mara Scanlon

    Hi Erin,

    Sorry for this awkward place to give you a cigar box link, but I wasn’t sure if you check your wire or not. I should have labeled many of those more carefully, but on that particular picture I gave away its source: LOC (Library of Congress). The link is here: and it’s part of the library’s American Treasures exhibits. Anyway, I enjoyed reading your remarks on Speciman Days– my class here in Fredericksburg has been moved by visiting some of the sights referenced there. –Dr. Scanlon

  2. erinm Says:
    Avatar of erinm

    Hi Dr. Scanlon,
    Thank you so much for reading my post and sharing your link. I apologize for not noticing it’s source before. I’m glad you enjoyed my post and it’s cool that your students were able to visit some of those sites. I’m sure I would have been moved too!

  3. bmzreece Says:
    Avatar of bmzreece

    “Burial of a Lady Nurse (and the following entry “Female Nurses for Soldiers”) expresses not only how important nurses were in the military, but the fact that Whitman is giving them attention in his account shows their importance in general is growing just a bit, it seems. War is definitely a masculine arena, so I felt it important to acknowledge that women were even recognized at all, even if it is just for the caring and nurturing touch as Whitman puts it.”

    Very true. For seemingly the first time, Whitman’s attention to women extends beyond praising them for their ability to bear children…and to give birth to men…and to extend humanity through childbearing…and their ability to become pregnant, etc. etc.
    That Whitman notices them in regard to the “masculine” event of war, which you point out, makes it all the more interesting.

  4. Trudie Barson Says:

    Hi there! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be okay. I’m absolutely enjoying your blog and look forward to new posts.

  5. erinm Says:
    Avatar of erinm

    hi Trudie,

    thanks so much for writing. I have a twitter account, but don’t use it hardly at all, so it wouldn’t make sense to follow me there. Also, this blog was a school assignment so I’m not sure how often I’ll be updating it, but let me know if there is something you’d like to know about whitman and if no one else has posted on it yet, I’d love to research it for you and add a post. Thanks so much for reading!

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