An old man bending I come upon new faces . . . . The old poet is asked by the young to tell of his experience during the war. In silence and in dreams, he returns to the battlefield: "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 . . . . "

He describes the rows of the hospital tent, where one man has a bullet through his neck, another an amputated arm. The poet cleans and dresses each wound. Even though he never knew these soldiers before, "Yet I think I could not refuse this moment to die for you, if that would save you." At the end of the poem, he remarks, "Many a soldier’s kiss dwells on these bearded lips."


One of Whitman’s "Drum Taps" poems, describing the Civil War years. This is an eloquent and passionate celebration of caring, certainly one of the canon of poems about nursing. For those who argue that nurses and physicians ought to develop detachment and "clinical distance," this poem is a kick in the pants.


The "Deathbed Edition," originally published in 1892.

Primary Source

Leaves of Grass


Book of the Month Club

Place Published

New York