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Walt Whitman wrote "The Wound Dresser" in honor of soldiers wounded in the American Civil War. Published in 1865, the poem chronicles Whitman's faithful and compassionate visits to Union and Confederate soldiers in hospitals in Washington, D.C.

From Leaves of Grass

"The Wound-Dresser"


By Walt Whitman


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,

(Arous'd and angry, I'd thought to beat the alarum, and urge relentless war,

But soon my fingers fail'd me, my face droop'd and I resign'd myself,

To sit by the wounded and soothe them, or silently watch the dead;)

Years hence of these scenes, of these furious passions, these chances,

Of unsurpass'd heroes, (was one side so brave? the other was

equally brave;)

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,

What you ask of my days those the strangest and sudden your

talking recalls,

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 content.)

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 sand,

With hinged knees returning I enter the doors, (while for you up


Whoever you are, follow 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


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


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 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


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


Many a soldier's kiss dwells on these bearded lips.)




Source: Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. Edited by Sculley Bradley and Harold W. Blodgett. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1973.




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