Permalink for this paragraph 0 For my history engine and new historicism paper, I initally struggled in finding a work of literature that I was interested in, could be read in light of a specific historical context, and pertained to a highly specific event within this historical context.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Of course, it helps to stick with American history, as your assignment stiuplates and not attempt Irish history… (although I did learn a lot about Yeats and the Easter Rising of 1916 in Dublin, Ireland!)
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Regardless, after contemplating a few Norton Anthologies and some bookshelves at home, I revisted the grand Walt Whitman and remembered that a portion of his poems in Leaves of Grass revolve around Whitman’s time as a self-appointed nurse for wounded soldiers during the Civil War.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Settling on “The Wound Dresser” as my poem of choice, I decided to investigate the particulars of Whitman’s war-time experience. Interestingly, while I could have chosen an event like a battle (such as Fredericksburg) or the precedence of male nurses during the war, I looked at the history of Washington D.C.’s military hospitals, specifically Armory Square hospital where Whitman spent much of his time.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Some of the resources I found included a self-produced hospital newspaper titled Armory Square Gazette which was a detailed account of the inner-workings of Armory. Armory in particular has a fascinating history because of its location. Near steamboat and railroad access, Armory was situated so that many soldiers grievously wounded from Virginia’s battlefields went to Armory first, and therefore the hospital had to treat some of most terrible soldier casualties.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Perhaps (I am working on this analysis for the paper..its acomin! a work in progress..) because Armory was the hospital with such horrifying casualties and high death rates, perhaps because of this Whitman was particularly inspired and especially moved–his lamentations in “Wound Dresser” and his sorrowful tone and disillusionment with the war can stem from his first-hand experience at Armory.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 I particularly like new historicism as a criticism, because I feel the connections I am starting to form between the poem and the time period are more well-founded; I’m not just speculating or assuming.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 I also think that while fantasy and fiction works have their place (I love them and they will always be impactful) I think seeing the history and the culture, the thinkings and innerworkings of a different time only strengthen the message of literature and make it more powerful than invented works. I see “Wound Dresser” now as more of a sort of story-telling, a journal entry made art, that constitutes how a man lived and experienced the Civil War from the side of caretaker and not soldier.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 While Whitman may indeed be a controversial figure (love him or despise him or just be confuzzled by him), by looking at the historical context in which “Wound Dresser” is written we can see a universal message of the perils of war and a complicated pride, love, and sorrow for the soldiers who fought in it.