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The Dresser

Walt Whitman 1819 (West Hills) – 1892 (Camden)

  AN old man bending, I come, among new faces,
  Years looking backward, resuming, in answer to children,
  Come tell us, old man, as from young men and maidens that love me;
  Years hence of these scenes, of these furious passions, these
  Of unsurpass'd heroes, (was one side so brave? the other was equally
  Now be witness again--paint the mightiest armies of earth;
  Of those armies so rapid, so wondrous, what saw you to tell us?
  What stays with you latest and deepest? of curious panics,
  Of hard-fought engagements, or sieges tremendous, what deepest

  O maidens and young men I love, and that love me, 10
  What you ask of my days, those the strangest and sudden your talking
  Soldier alert I arrive, after a long march, cover'd with sweat and
  In the nick of time I come, plunge in the fight, loudly shout in the
  rush of successful charge;
  Enter the captur'd works.... yet lo! like a swift-running river, they
  Pass and are gone, they fade--I dwell not on soldiers' perils or
  soldiers' joys;
  (Both I remember well--many the hardships, few the joys, yet I was

  But in silence, in dreams' projections,
  While the world of gain and appearance and mirth goes on,
  So soon what is over forgotten, and waves wash the imprints off the
  In nature's reverie sad, with hinged knees returning, I enter the
  doors--(while for you up there, 20
  Whoever you are, follow me without noise, and be of strong heart.)

  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. 30

  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
  The neck of the cavalry-man, with the bullet through and through, I
  Hard the breathing rattles, quite glazed already the eye, yet life
  struggles hard;
  (Come, sweet death! be persuaded, O beautiful death! 40
  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
  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 already, and
  And the yellow-blue countenance see.

  I dress the perforated shoulder, the foot with the bullet wound, 50
  Cleanse the one with a gnawing and putrid gangrene, so sickening, so
  While the attendant stands behind aside me, holding the tray and

  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; 60
  (Many a soldier's loving arms about this neck have cross'd and
  Many a soldier's kiss dwells on these bearded lips.)

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

3:36 min read

Walt Whitman

Walter "Walt" Whitman was an American poet, essayist and journalist. more…

All Walt Whitman poems | Walt Whitman Books

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