This week’s readings revolved around the theme of the U.S. Civil War, and how Walt Whitman dealt with the imagery the battlefields provided. In a way, hearing the fear of the unknown in every word Whitman wrote at the time showed how haunting the graphic carnage and bloodshed was to such a staunch optimist as Walt. It almost felt like the essence of America’s humanity, which Whitman was enamored by in prior entries, had been drained from its people overnight. In a roundabout way, Walt’s inner thoughts on the matter could have matched the lyrics to “Two Brothers,” a song written by Irving Gordon, and originally recorded in 1951.
The song mirrors Whitman’s poetic style by providing simple descriptions of the scene at hand. Through these details, it is suggested that one of the brothers killed the other with cannon fire, for no other reason than being a soldier for the enemy army. This is because, according to the song, “a cannonball [doesn’t care] if [a person is] gentle… or kind” to people in need. The song ends with the wives of the two brothers, both unaware that one of them has died, and will not return to the arms of their partner.
I think this song is a fitting reflection of what went through Whitman’s mind at the time, because it mirrored the uncertainty all Americans, both in the Union and Confederacy, felt back then. The soldiers on the ground were fighting for causes they and their loved ones knew little about, such as slavery and states’ rights. Before long, their friends and families were paying for that lack of knowledge by having to see their mutual acquaintance return to them in a pine box on the way to the grave.
When Whitman spoke of “[being] surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh” in “I Sing the Body Electric,” he referred to the memories people made with friends and family. As the war raged on, and said friends and family members died in battle, those who knew them on a personal level were left with only memories of the time spent together. Whitman wanted people to make as many memories with the ones they loved as possible, for nobody – not even Walt – knew when their time together would end.
What was the last thing you read, saw, or listened to that showed how fragile life can be, and how did you respond to it?