Walt Whitman’s Birthday (May 31)

Yesterday, May 31, marked Walt Whitman’s birthday. Whitman served as a nurse in military hospitals in Washington, DC, during the Civil War. Here is an excerpt from his poem, “The Wound Dresser.”

On, on I go, (open doors of time! open hospital doors!)

The crush’d head I dress (poor crazed hand tear not the bandage away),

The neck of the cavalry-man with the bullet through and through I examine,

Hard the breathing rattles, quite glazed already the eye, yet life struggles hard

(Come sweet death! be persuaded O beautiful death!

In mercy come quickly).

 

From the stump of the arm, the amputated hand,

I undo the clotted lint, remove the slough, wash off the matter and blood,

Back on his pillow the soldier bends with curv’d neck and side-falling head,

His eyes are closed, his face is pale, he dares not look on the bloody stump,

And has not yet look’d on it.

 

I dress a wound in the side, deep, deep,

But a day or two more, for see the frame all wasted and sinking,

And the yellow-blue countenance see.

I dress the perforated shoulder, the foot with the bullet-wound,

Cleanse the one with a gnawing and putrid gangrene, so sickening, so offensive,

While the attendant stands behind aside me holding the tray and pail.

 

I am faithful, I do not give out,

The fractur’d thigh, the knee, the wound in the abdomen,

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

 

The complete poem may be found at:

http://www.bartleby.com/42/818.html

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