Walt Whitman: Poems

Drum Taps: The Dresser


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, Years

hence) "of these scenes, of these furious passions, these chances,

Of unsurpassed 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 remains?"


O maidens and young men I love, and that love me,

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


Soldier alert I arrive, after a long march, covered with sweat and dust;

In the nick of time I come, plunge in the fight, loudly shout in the rush

of successful charge;

Enter the captured works,...yet lo! like a swift-running river, they fade,

Pass, and are gone; they fade--I dwell not on soldiers' perils or soldiers'


(Both I remember well--many the hardships, few the joys, yet I was


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,

In nature's reverie sad, with hinged knees returning, I enter the

doors--(while for you up there, Whoever you are, follow me 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 roofed 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 filled with clotted rags and blood, emptied, and filled again.

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 you,

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 crushed head I dress (poor crazed hand, tear not the bandage away;)

The neck of the cavalry-man, with the bullet through and through, I


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 curved neck, and side-falling


His eyes are closed, his face is pale, he dares not look on the bloody


And has not yet looked 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


While the attendant stands behind aside me, holding the tray and pail.

I am faithful, I do not give out;

The fractured 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 the 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 crossed and rested,

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