Walt Whitman, “The Wound-Dresser” -Poem Questions And Sample Answers

Read the poems and answer the questions for each. Walt Whitman, “The Wound-Dresser” Online Text The poem describes a rare viewpoint of the soldiers and healers during the American Civil War. At first a proponent for the war, Walt Whitman soon came to comprehend the pain and suffering of the soldiers and devoted himself to helping and comforting them as a volunteer nurse. Within the poem, the speaker is being asked by a group of interested youngsters to share his experiences during the war, and he paints an image that contrasts the common depictions of war then and still today.

Section 1:

Note: “The Wound Dresser” frequently confuses students because of the repeated use of an interior monologue which is set off by placing the narrator’s thoughts in parenthesis. Moreover, in section one there are two to three voices interwoven together. Consider the parenthetical statements an interior monologue that interrupts the question beginning, “Come tell us old man . . . .” First read the questioning voice alone so you see the question clearly. The interior thoughts will be easier to understand that way.

Why is the narrator “looking backward” according to section I? What other reason might one have to look backward on one’s war experiences?

According to section I, the narrator ‘looking backward’ was initiated by the youngsters request or question. The question of his war memories made him reflect back to what happened during the American Civil war. Other things that may initiate reflection to war experience include body scars or permanent marks, death anniversary of a friend or relative who died in the war, or a reminder by the environment; a song, people’s discussion, and media discussion among others.

What attitude or outlook on the war would you attribute to the “children” who question the old man? Be sure to quote specific words or phrases that support your inference.

The children had a positive outlook, they expected worrier like story, where the narrator conqueredand overcame hardship like a superhero. “Years hence of these scenes, of these furious passions, these chances, Of unsurpass’d heroes, ” the two lines shows that children were used to positive narratives about the war, that painted war survivors as heroic being who do not remember the hardship, but who concentrate heroic success.

Twice the narrator has an inward reflection within the children’s question. What change in himself does he document in the first parenthetical statement?

The narrator initially felt angry and aroused to take part the way with anticipation to make a difference. However, this urge and desire did not last for long. He was unable to keep-up with the war demand and he resolved into taking care of the wounded. He changed from being angry and aroused to war, to a compassionate person who was ready to care for the wounded and dying soldiers

In the second parenthetical statement, how does the old man respond to the language of the question, to the “children’s” vision of war, to their notion of “unsurpass’d heroes” and the “mightiest armies of earth.”

the narrator tried to remind the children that the two sides were equally brave meaning what they got from the “children war heroes” they gave it back in equal measures and hence there was untold story of wounded and defeated soldiers they ought to know

Restate the question(s) the children are asking in a simple but accurate sentence.

Narrate to us your heroic civil war experience

Section 2:

In the beginning of the narrator’s response (lines 14-20) which characteristics of war and battle are being emphasized?

The narrator is emphasizing on the experience of the soldiers in the war field, mostly on their struggle including need to be swift, alert, and chaotic moment of battle engagement. The narrator also talks of how these moments end very soon and one is only left with memories.

What fades like a “swift-running river”?

I believe the narrator is talking about his desire to fight, his fighting spirit and the energy to fight and conquer the enemy

Explain what does the phrase “in silence, in dreams’ projections” might mean? (If you don’t know at first, come back to this question. Watch for repetition of the phrase.)

The narrator is talking about the economy and life after war. Other people in the world; outside the war and soldiers world were going on with their economic activities and investments with hope of achieving their dreams.

What is meant by “While the world of gain and appearance and mirth goes on”?

When the civilians and those not directly involved in the war continue with their money making business and enjoying life

Explain what the imagery of “waves wash[ing] the imprints off the sand” refers to.

The narrator tries to explain how fast the rest of the society forgot the war and its effect without any permanent reminder of war while soldiers and their nurses are left wounded forever with no easy way to wash off the memory

Why are his knees “hinged”? What “doors” are opening?

Hinged in this case tries to signify the ability to open somewhere in him and relive the war experience. Hinged means the ability to open, and the opening door signify ability to enter into his mind and retrieve the war memories that he was unable to forget and live normally like other civilians.

Once again, we see an interior monologue set off by parenthesis. Who “must follow without noise”? Why must they “be of strong heart”?

In this case means whoever is seeing what is happening with or without narrators’ awareness. They are imaginary audience who can mostly be the departed soldiers. They are told to be of strong heart due to what they are about to see they may feel betrayed or unvalued by those they died for.

Section 3:

In section 3 the narrator starts to answer, begins “resuming, in answer to children” by describing his wartime service to the wounded. Which images and language strike you most vividly? Are any details painful to read? Can you visualize the hospital; can you imagined it on film?

The description of wounded soldiers lying on the ground is the striking and vivid description “when their priceless blood redden the ground” The description of wounded appearance some breading, some with bullet wounds and some with amputated hand are quite painful details to read about. His vivid description of the hospital ease the visualization, I even imagined watching it in a civil war documentary.

In Whitman’s day, many reader’s felt that hospitals, corpses, and pails filled with “clotted rags and blood,” were not fit subjects for poetry. What do you think?

The poem is based on the reality of what happened during the war. It is part of the American history and Americans experience. It was to be reflected in the literature someday somehow; to me being reflected in a poem is no big deal. I actually feel that the poem was the easiest way to summarize the wounded soldier reality.

Why is the phrase “hinged knees” repeated?

It may be used to show loss of inner energy, shaking knee that signifying a devastated heart or inner hurts

Why is the line “Come, sweet death! be persuaded, O beautiful death! / In mercy come quickly” encased in parenthesis? Why would death be “sweet” or “beautiful”?

The narrator was trying to read the mind of a wounded soldier in deep pain who has given up and has suffered enough pain to a point of rejoicing in death. The death is regarded to be sweet and beautiful since it was the only possible reliever of pain.

Note how this section ends. Explain the point of the emotional contrast between the “impassive hand” and the “burning flame” within.

The narrator tries to act normal and professionally without showing emotions, however, his heart is burning with hurt, empathy, pain, compassion. However, he cannot get to show the soldiers that he is weak or that they are in a very hopeless situation that pains him. He just tries to be normal

Section 4:

In section 4 the narrator clarifies for the reader what he means by “dreams’ projections.” Return to section one and review the question of the young people; also, return to section 2 to see what he says fades from memory. What, then, in the end, has stayed with the narrator “latest and deepest”?

What has stayed is the hope and desire of seeing soldiers wounded in the war survive their injuries and have a normal life. He desired to save their life and restore their hope and he still hopes that more would survive this

Read the last section again. Is this poem arising truly from the questions of young people, or does the wound dresser “resume” of his own accord?

The section seems to be real. At the beginning he never had a dream, but he seems to have a dream and a projection of seeing the soldiers healthy and back to their life and he went back to assist them and to offer them moral support in personal accord

Why would the soldiers wish to hug the narrator, to kiss him? Why is the memory “sweet and sad”?

It is because he showed love and compassion to them when no family, friend or anyone else to it during that time


Because he relieved them of pain, something they needed most and cared for their wellbeing until they were able to regain their health

Make an argument that this is a dramatic monologue, despite the interwoven voices in Section 1.

After asking their question, the young people left the narrator to speak nostalgically alone, addressing not them, but imaginary audience or any other audience. Although he answers the young people questions, this is not done in a direct way as one would have expected. He appears like he is lost in his memory giving a story, his observation and his inner feelings about it without leaning more on the known audience who asked the question.

Who do you see as the implied audience for the poem? Is it really meant for “children”? If so, how old would these children be?

The description given of wounded soldiers could surely scare children, may be children of teenage or young adult. The content is too hard for any child.

What do we learn about the narrator’s personality traits, values, and experiences?

The narrator is kind, compassionate and human. He values human dignity and hate pain. His experience with war made him lose the desire to fight, to the desire to assist those injured with hope of relieving them from pain and giving them a chance to live

What is the role of the nurse in the poem?

The role of the nurse was dressing soldiers’ wounds and to show them love and kindness while supporting them emotionally in their end of life care

Has this role changed in the present?

The nursing role has not changed much today, though there is high level of specialization where different groups of nurses work in different units. However, their general role in all these instances is caring for the patients based on their needs.

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