Civil War Poetry, and an American Modernist

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 8, 2005 | Go to article overview

Civil War Poetry, and an American Modernist


Byline: Vincent D. Balitas, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

J. D. McClatchy, the editor of this addition to The Library of America's American Poets Project, reminds us that "over 620,000 soldiers died during those four years, nearly as many as in all of America's other wars combined." Those who saw Ken Burns' version of the war on PBS easily recall the carnage of Shiloh and Antietam, the horrors of Southern and Northern prisoners-of-war camps, the destruction of Atlanta.

Now we have a collection of poems through which we can view one of the most devastating chapters in our nation's history, a time whose effects we still bear. Most of the poems, "anthems and elegies, rallying cries and defenses" are, as the editor readily admits, "second-rate." Nevertheless, although many of the poems are of little literary merit, there should be no doubt but that they are of historical importance. This volume, therefore, should attract a large audience of readers who are Civil War buffs and those curious about the development of American poetry.

Mr. McClatchy, the editor of The Yale Review and of the first publication in the American Poets Project, "Edna St. Vincent Millay," provides a thoughtful introduction to the period. He discusses literary styles (or lack thereof), and comments on some of the 33 poets he selected. More biographical information would have been useful, but its absence is understandable given so many poets and several long poems.

Some of the poets will be unfamiliar to all but students of American poetry. Others, including Herman Melville, Bret Harte, and Ambrose Bierce, are known for their fiction, even though each knew his way about a poem. There is a group of poets, including Whittier, Longfellow and Emerson, whose names will ring a bell from high school, or earlier. Then there is Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, two titans of 19th century American poetry.

The Dickinson poems included here are not her finest, although the following stanza is better than many poems of this collection:

It feels a shame to be Alive-

When Men so brave-are

dead-

One envies the Distinguished

Dust-

Permitted-such a Head-

Compare these lines to ones William Gilmore Simms wrote to open "Ode-Do Ye Quail:"

Do ye quail but to hear,

Carolinians,

The first foot-tramp of

Tyranny's minions?

Have ye buckled on armor,

and brandished the spear,

But to shrink with the

trumpet's first peal on the ear?

The greatest poem in the volume, and one of the best ever written, is Walt Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," his elegy for the assassinated president: "And the great star early droop'd in the western sky in the night,/ I mourn'd, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring."

Mr. McClatchy is informative on Whitman's volunteer work during the war, but Whitman's "The Wound-Dresser" directly involves the reader: "I dress the perforated shoulder, the foot with the bullet-wound,/ Cleanse the one with a gnawing and putrid gangrene, so sickening, so offensive." The immediacy of war is captured by all 33 poets, but the poems by Dickinson and Whitman shine in this fine anthology. This is a book that belongs in all our libraries. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Civil War Poetry, and an American Modernist
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.