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Walt Whitman and Mary Henderson
Posted by: Tijen (---.proxy.aol.com)
Date: March 15, 2003 01:56PM

hi, i have to write a comparison of the ways in which Walt Whitman and Mary H L Henderson present the attitudes to injury and death in war. Then i have to say how far i agree with the view that Whitman presents his subjects in a far more sentimental way than Henderson. Can anyone help? Thanx!

here are the poems:

The Wound- Dresser


Bearing the bandages, water and sponge,
Straight and swift to my wounded I go,
Where they lie on the ground after the battle brought in,
Where their priceless blood reddens the grass, the ground,
Or to the rows of the hospital tent, or under the roof’d hospital,
To the long rows of cots up and down each side I return,
To each and all one after another I draw near, not one do I miss,
An attendant follows holding a tray, he carries a refuse pail,
Soon to be fill’d with clotted rags and blood, emptied, and fill’d again.

I onward go, I stop,
With hinged knees and steady hand to dress wounds,
I am firm with each, the pangs are sharp yet unavoidable,
One turns to me his appealing eyes—poor boy! I never knew you,
Yet I think I could not refuse this moment to die for you, if that would save you.


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).


Thus in silence in dreams’ projections,
Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals,
The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand,
I sit by the restless all the dark night, some are so young,
Some suffer so much, I recall the experience sweet and sad,
(Many a soldier’s loving arms about this neck have cross’d and rested,
Many a soldier’s kiss dwells on these bearded lips).

An Incident

He was just a boy, as I could see,
For he sat in the tent there close by me.
I held the lamp with its flickering light,
And felt the hot tears blur my sight
As the doctor took the blood-stained hands
From both his brave, shell-shattered hands--
His boy hands, wounded more pitifully
Than Thine O Christ, on Calvary.

I was making tea in the tent where they,
The wounded, came in their agony;
And the boy turned when his wounds were dressed,
Held up his face like a child at the breast,
Turned and held his tired face up,
For he could not hold the spoon or cup,
And I fed him. . . . Mary, Mother of God,
All women tread where thy feet have trod.

And still on the battlefield of pain
Christ is stretched on His Cross again;
And the Son of God in agony hangs,
Womanhood striving to ease His pangs.
For each son of man is a son divine,
Not just to the mother who calls him 'mine',
As he stretches out his stricken hand,
Wounded to death for the Mother Land.

Re: Walt Whitman and Mary Henderson
Posted by: Les (---.trlck.ca.charter.com)
Date: March 15, 2003 03:20PM

I'm not sure if what Whitman does is more sentimental than Henderson, but he does seem more personal. The last stanza of the first poem shows how
Whitman was personally involved with the injured.

Henderson, on the other hand, brings in references to motherhood and Christ, both often thought of as sentimental, to decry the horrors of war.


Re: Walt Whitman and Mary Henderson
Posted by: Pam Adams (---)
Date: March 17, 2003 04:56PM

Sentimental? Whitman is actually dealing directly with the wounds, and getting very specific about injuries- amputations, a bullet through the shoulder, through the foot, a 'crush'd head.' We can picture the actual injuries and their probable results. (death in many cases)

Henderson is more distant- she's not dressing wounds, but making tea, and feeding the injured. The injuries are only mentioned in the first stanza.


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