Whitman’s “Sight in Camp” is one on the saddest poems Whitman ever wrote. One assumes he is looking at dead Yankees, but we know the same sight could be seen on either side of the war. Every soldier was someone’s father, brother, son, husband, or friend. Just like every baby is a tiny Christ-child at the beginning, we are all—like it or not—“the face of Christ himself” when we die. Maybe not all soldiers are heroes in life, but Walt Whitman makes them all heroic in death.
Sight in Camp in the Daybreak Gray and Dim
A sight in camp in the daybreak gray and dim,
As from my tent I emerge so early sleepless,
As slow I walk in the cool fresh air the path near by the hospital tent,
Three forms I see on stretchers lying, brought out there untended lying,
Over each the blanket spread, ample brownish woolen blanket,
Gray and heavy blanket, folding, covering all.
Curious I halt and silent stand,
Then with light fingers I from the face of the nearest the first just lift the blanket;
Who are you elderly man so gaunt and grim, with well-gray’d hair, and flesh all sunken about the eyes?
Who are you my dear comrade?
Then to the second I step—and who are you my child and darling?
Who are you sweet boy with cheeks yet blooming?
Then to the third—a face nor child nor old, very calm, as of beautiful yellow-white ivory;
Young man I think I know you—I think this face is the face of the Christ himself,
Dead and divine and brother of all, and here again he lies.