Analysis of Whitman’s Bivouac on a Mountain Side
First published after the conclusion of the Civil War in 1865, Walt Whitman’s poem “Bivouac on a Mountain Side” portrays more than just the tangible picture of a transcendentalist’s vision. The mood of the poem reflects the author’s observations and visions of the Civil War while stationed in Washington and Virginia as well as his beliefs about the war by use of imagery and symbolism.
The use of imagery in “Bivouac on a Mountain Side” is one of the compelling factors that draws the reader into the poem so that he/she no longer reads what Whitman is writing, but rather sees what he is describing and understands Whitman’s place in the war. Different from other Whitman poems, “Bivouac on a Mountain Side” does not contain the title phrase anywhere in the body of the poem, but rather sets the stage for the described scene. Whitman’s use of imagery in “Bivouac on a Mountain Side” provides the basis for symbolic representation in the poem. In the first line of the poem, “I see before me now a traveling army halting”, begins the description of a troop that he is observing. Starting with the second line of the poem, Whitman attaches meaning to each of the elements in the poem. “A fertile valley spread, with barns and the orchards of summer” symbolizes the peaceful stillness of a country that has not been torn by war. In a sense, the second line is used to represent an unadulterated America. However, behind that lies “the terraced sides of a mountain, abrupt, in places rising high, broken with rocks, with clinging cedars, and with tall shapes dingily seen” (lines 3 and 4). The description of this grand and almost menacing mountain, in contrast to the val...
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...ut first hand observations of the war taking place around him. Looking deeper into the poem enables the reader to gain Whitman’s insight about the soldiers during the war: their fear, excitement, and hope.
(1) I see before me now a traveling army halting
(2) Below a fertile valley spread, with barns and the orchards of summer,
(3) Behind, the terraced sides of a mountain, abrupt, in places rising high,
(4) Broken, with rocks, with clinging cedars, with tall shapes dingily seen,
(5) The numerous camp-fires scatter’d near and far, some away up on the mountain,
(6) The shadowy forms of men and horses, looming, large-sized, flickering
(7) And over all the sky- the sky! Far, far out of reach, studded, breaking out, the eternal stars