Walt Whitman's Use of the Theme of Death in His Poetry

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Walt Whitman's Use of the Theme of Death in His Poetry

Walt Whitman uses the theme of death in his poetry. Whitman's use of death is unlike any other poets. He draws upon his own experiences with death and this makes his poetry real.

Whitman spent time as a wound-dresser during the Civil War. During this time, Whitman learned and saw so much. The death that he saw during this time provided him with inspiration in his poetry and ideas and thoughts about death.

Throughout Whitman's poetry, the reader can witness his own feelings of death changing and evolving. In "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" Whitman uses one of his other major themes, nature, and relates it to death. He is beginning to understand death and come to terms with it. This can be seen in the following passage.

Demon or bird! (said the boy's soul,)

It is indeed toward your mate you sing? or is it really to me?

For I, that was a child my tongue's use sleeping, now I have heard


Now in the moment I know what I am for, I awake,

And already a thousand singers, a thousand songs, clearer, louder,

and more sorrowful than yours,

A thousand warbling echoes have stated to life within me, never to

die. (144-149)

Here Whitman is talking about his life and how much he has already lived, and he is finally understanding death.

During his time as a wound-dresser, Whitman spent many nights watching over the fallen soldiers. This affected his view of death and he wrote about it in his poetry. When one reads "A Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night" they can see the immense pain that not only the soldiers felt, but also Whitman. In this poem Whitman is describing his experiences with the soldiers during th...

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The Night in silence under many a star,

The ocean shore and the husky whispering wave whose voice I


And the soul turning to thee O vast and well-veil'd death,

And the body gratefully nestling close to thee. (155-159)

Here Whitman seems to be celebrating death. This could also come from his time spent as a wound-dresser.

The time Walt Whitman spent as a wound-dresser has greatly affected him, his views of death, and his poetry. Because of his experiences with the soldiers, Whitman learned to value death. He thinks as death as a blessing, almost a relief from the harsh world. He also talked about the living and how death affected them. This could very well come from his feelings of himself being left behind and watching people around him die. All in all Whitman uses his life experiences in his poetry, particularly regarding death.
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