The Wound-Dresser: by Walt Whitman - Summary & Analysis

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      Introduction. The Wound-Dresser is a poem of more than sixty lines divided into four sections. This is taken from the collection Drum-Taps portraying the various aspects of the American Civil War (1861-1865) Walt Whitman went round the hospitals in Washington where the wounded soldiers were kept for treatment. He comforted them through soothing as well as helping in the dressing of the wounds and operations of those patients.

      Summary. The poet fancies that as an old man he recounts to the children the various incidents of the Civil War. At first he wanted to join the war himself but later decided to “sit by the wounded and soothe them, or silently watch the dead”. The ground was drenched red by their blood. The poet carried bandages, sponges, etc. for dressing the wounds. He had an attendant to help. Even as he dressed the wounds, the wounded soldiers cried with pain. The sympathy that the poet had for those suffering people was so much that he felt that he would even die if his death could save them. The 3rd section gives details of the different wounded soldiers such as the one with crushed head, the cavalry man with a bullet through his neck, another with an amputated hand, another with a perforated shoulder, still others having their wounded feet, fractured thigh or knee and wounds in the abdomen.

These and more I dress with impassive hand, (yet deep in my breast a fire, a burning flame.)

      Critical Analysis. The horrors of war can be described in hundreds of ways. Here the poet describes them in such a pathetic way enumerating concrete cases of the suffering wounded soldiers that no sensible man will advocate war as the means of solving problems or settling disputes. There are other poems in Drum-Taps describing the actual combat but they cannot be more appreciated by us than such poems as these where the poet gives pictures of his services as a male nurse, a wound dresser. How inhuman and brutal are the ravages of war can be deduced by the description of the pathetic conditions of the wounded soldiers.

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