Essay on Whitman’s Bivouac on a Mountain Side

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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
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“The actual soldier, North and South, with all his ways, his incredible dauntlessness, his superb strength and lawless gait, will never be written. No future age can know, but I well know, how the war resided in the unnamed, unknown rank and file, and the brunt of its labor of death was volunteered” (Whitman, www.dentistry.com/cwrt/cwrtlink.html). This view of Whitman’s clearly illustrates that he believed that he understood the emotional and psychological aspects of the soldiers well enough to probe deeper their minds in order to find a truth yet untold. It is these strikingly different imageries that set the mood for the poem: that of an unobtainable peace that cannot be grasped but for a fleeting second. The next lines of the poem take the contrasting landscapes and add a human element into the poem in order to symbolically represent not the presence of human beings, but their emotion and thought. The fifth line, "The numerous camp-fires scatter'd near and far, some away up on the mountain", I believe not only gives the reader an image of the scene being depicted in the poem, but also is representative of a typical soldier's feeling and psyche during the war. Numerous journal accounts reveal that often during the time of war, the soldiers' thoughts would "scatter" with things both near and far to them, with images of returning home, of peace, and of seeing their loved ones for the