Drum-Taps: Whitman’s Problematic Legacy as a War Poet


Author: Fahri Öz, Ankara University, Turkey
Email: fahriozz@gmail.com
Published: November 30, 2016

Citation: Öz, F. (2016). Drum-Taps: Whitman’s Problematic Legacy as a War Poet. IAFOR Journal of Literature & Librarianship, 5(1). https://doi.org/10.22492/ijl.5.1.03


This paper analyzes Walt Whitman’s American Civil War poems in his collection Drum-Taps in comparison with the poetry written by British soldier-poets of WWI. These poems present Whitman as a problematic model for future generations of war poets since he hardly ever questions the meaninglessness of bloodshed in the battlefield, a trait which is almost a defining characteristic of WWI poetry, anti-war poems that question and criticize bloodshed rather than celebrating it. Whitman the poet encourages people to take part in the war without making it clear what one is supposed to fight for or against. His poems divest individuals of their personality and turn them into parts of the war machine. The poems in Drum-Taps depend heavily on the use of visual images that suggest distance, while his British successors opt for a variety of images that imply proximity. Whitman’s poetry suggests lack of involvement since he was not a soldier-poet, which to some extent renders him a questionable role model for future poets. Therefore, though some of his elegiac pieces may serve as models for future poets, Whitman’s legacy as a war poet on the whole poses a problem for his British antecedents with its artistic, ethical and political implications.


Walt Whitman, Drum-Taps, war poetry, WWI British poets, tradition