Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night

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It elevates the grim realities. Death is transformed by a loving and solemn ritual into a near-religious experience.

No one else is present on this battlefield. The speaker sits alone with his dead comrade "in the fragrant silent night". The scene is eroticised and idealised. And, if the poem had ended earlier than it does, around line 15, perhaps, we'd have been forgiven for thinking it, despite the freewheeling style, a shade Keatsian in sentiment.

Selected Criticism

Whitman's genius, here, is to keep going. I think this is often true of his work. The onward impulse isn't merely rhythmical, isn't merely a matter of open road or open heart. He pushes on when the subject matter itself is resistant. The poem attains its stature with the wrapping and burial of the soldier's body.

Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field. Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass

Death presents not only a sacred mystery, but a practical challenge. The three repetitions of "well" evoke the good nurse conscientiously at work.

Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night

The speaker returns to the present, now looking back on the "vigil of night and battlefield dim" and then, shifting further ahead in time, reviewing the tableau of the dawn burial. Nothing prepares us for the terseness of the last line, and yet how right it is. The possessive pronoun of "my soldier", embodies the tender valediction, the last moment of emotion.

More by Walt Whitman

No more needs to be felt or said. Topics Walt Whitman Carol Rumens's poem of the week.

Poetry features. Reuse this content. Order by newest oldest recommendations. Show 25 25 50 All. Threads collapsed expanded unthreaded. Loading comments… Trouble loading? And buried him where he fell. I SEE the sleeping babe, nestling the breast of its mother; The sleeping mother and babe—hush'd, I study them long and long.

The image of a poet assembling a book by spreading his or her poems around the floor to see which ones go where endures in the literary imagination, even in the Age of the Internet, when poets are inclined to save their work in electronic files.

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"Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night" performed by Stephanie Igharosa

Robert Frost said that in a book of twenty-four poems the twenty-fifth one should be its arrangement, a challenge that rewards artfulness and imagination. For while a slim volume of poetry may amount to little more or less than a collection of individual poems, it can also be structured in the form of an aesthetic argument, defined in lyrical, meditative, or narrative terms or some combination thereof , suitable for exploring personal, philosophical, political, and social themes.

A book may follow an arc, musical or otherwise, with poems grouped together by images, ideas, or motifs. Or the poet may seek to create sparks between poems, linking them by means of subject and sound, texture and color, or putting some distance between poems that treat similar subjects, inviting readers to forge their own connections. Then again serendipity may guide the selection and order of the poems, the laying out of which can reveal gaps for the poet to fill with new work.

Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night Lyrics

There are myriad ways to organize a book. Whitman was forever adding, removing, and reordering poems in Leaves of Grass , which was published in six different editions in his lifetime, presenting an evolving understanding of his work, its measure and meaning.


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  • Birth and death, yin and yang—the central duality of the human condition acquires greater significance in the pairing of these poems. Every culture creates rituals to mark significant passages in the lives of individuals and their communities, which writers may describe for posterity. Thus the nineteenth-century American custom of a nightlong vigil for the dead and burial at dawn takes on new meaning when Whitman recreates it on the battlefield and then juxtaposes it with an image of maternal love.

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