Whitman and the Civil War

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Walt Whitman is one of the best known American poets. His poems promote the cause of freedom while simultaneously praising the dignity of the individual. His poems are usually about himself, yet in himself he sees the entire humanity and successfully communicates this to the reader, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. Walt Whitman was a part of the transcendental movement of Poets in America, which also included Henry Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. In Whitman's poem "Bivouac on a Mountain Side" he reflects on his observations and visions on the Civil War and uses imagery and symbolism to display his beliefs about the war in which he portrays more than just the tangible picture of a transcendentalist's vision.

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 other Whitman poems, "Bivouac on a Mountain Side" does not contain the title phrase anywhere in the body of the poem, but rather sets the stage for the described scene. Whitman's use of imagery in "Bivouac on a Mountain Side" provides the basis for symbolic representation in the poem. In the first line of the poem, "I see before me now a traveling army halting", begins the description of a troop that he is observing. Starting with the second line of the poem, Whitman attaches meaning to each of the elements in the poem. "A fertile valley spread, with barns and the orchards of summer" symbolizes the peaceful stillness of a country that has not been torn by war. In a sense, the second line is used to represent an unadulterated America. However, behind that lies "the terraced sides of a mountain, abrupt, in places rising high, broken with rocks, with clinging cedars, and with tall shapes dingily seen". The description of this grand and almost menacing mountain, in contrast to the...
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