Walt Whitman: Poems

Drum Taps: The Wounded

A march in the ranks hard-pressed, and the road unknown;

A route through a heavy wood, with muffled steps in the darkness;

Our army foiled with loss severe, and the sullen remnant retreating;

Till after midnight glimmer upon us the lights of a dim-lighted building;

We come to an open space in the woods, and halt by the dim-lighted


'Tis a large old church, at the crossing roads--'tis now an impromptu


--Entering but for a minute, I see a sight beyond all the pictures and

poems ever made:

Shadows of deepest, deepest black, just lit by moving, candles and lamps,

And by one great pitchy torch, stationary, with wild red flame, and clouds

of smoke;

By these, crowds, groups of forms, vaguely I see, on the floor, some in the

pews laid down;

At my feet more distinctly, a soldier, a mere lad, in danger of bleeding to

death, (he is shot in the abdomen;)

I staunch the blood temporarily, (the youngster's face is white as a lily;)

Then before I depart I sweep my eyes o'er the scene, fain to absorb it all;

Faces, varieties, postures, beyond description, most in obscurity, some of

them dead;

Surgeons operating, attendants holding lights, the smell of ether, the

odour of blood;

The crowd, O the crowd of the bloody forms of soldiers--the yard outside

also filled;

Some on the bare ground, some on planks or stretchers, some in the death-

spasm sweating;

An occasional scream or cry, the doctor's shouted orders or calls;

The glisten of the little steel instruments catching the glint of the


These I resume as I chant--I see again the forms, I smell the odour;

Then hear outside the orders given, _Fall in, my men, Fall in_.

But first I bend to the dying lad--his eyes open--a half-smile gives he me;

Then the eyes close, calmly close: and I speed forth to the darkness,

Resuming, marching, as ever in darkness marching, on in the ranks,

The unknown road still marching.