'Reconciliation' by Walt Whitman

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WORD over all, beautiful as the sky!
Beautiful that war, and all its deeds of carnage, must in time be
utterly lost;
That the hands of the sisters Death and Night, incessantly softly
wash again, and ever again, this soil'd world:
... For my enemy is dead--a man divine as myself is dead;
I look where he lies, white-faced and still, in the coffin--I draw
I bend down, and touch lightly with my lips the white face in the

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Beauty of Reconciliation in Walt Whitman's Poetry

Walt Whitman is undoubtedly one of the most influential poets of all time, and his works continue to inspire and enchant readers today. Among his many thought-provoking pieces, one that stands out is "Reconciliation." It is a remarkable poem that speaks to the power of forgiveness, the importance of healing old wounds, and the beauty of reconciliation. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the themes, imagery, and language of "Reconciliation" to better understand the profound message that Whitman seeks to convey.


At the heart of "Reconciliation" is the theme of forgiveness. The poem expresses a deep desire for a reconciliation between two individuals who have been estranged for a long time. Whitman speaks of the need to put aside past grievances and come together in a spirit of mutual understanding and respect. He writes:

Word over all, beautiful as the sky,
Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage must in time be utterly lost,
That the hands of the sisters Death and Night incessantly softly wash again, and ever again, this soiled world;
For my enemy is dead, a man divine as myself is dead,
I look where he lies white-faced and still in the coffin--I draw near,
Bend down and touch lightly with my lips the white face in the coffin.

The imagery that Whitman employs here is powerful and evocative. The sisters Death and Night are symbols of the natural cycles of life and death, and their soft, incessant washing of the world suggests a kind of healing or renewal. The fact that the enemy is described as "divine as myself" highlights the fact that we all share a common humanity, and that even those who have hurt us are worthy of forgiveness and compassion.

Another theme that runs throughout the poem is the idea of unification. Whitman speaks of a desire to overcome the divisions that have separated us and to come together as one. He writes:

I see over my own continent the Pacific railroad surmounting every barrier,
I see continual trains of cars winding along the Platte carrying freight and passengers,
I hear the locomotives rushing and roaring, and the shrill steam-whistle,
I hear the echoes reverberate through the grandest scenery in the world.

Here, Whitman is celebrating the power of technology to overcome physical barriers and bring people together. The image of the trains winding along the Platte River is particularly striking, as it suggests a kind of unity between the natural world and human progress.


Whitman's use of imagery in "Reconciliation" is both vivid and evocative. He paints a picture of a world that is at once beautiful and brutal, filled with both darkness and light. For example, in the following lines he describes the aftermath of a battle:

Lo, victress on the peaks!
Where thou with mighty brow regarding the world,
(The world, O Libertad, that vainly conspired against thee,)
Out of its countless beleaguering toils, after thwarting them all,
Dominant, with the dazzling sun around thee,
Flauntest now unharm'd in immortal soundness and bloom--lo, in these hours supreme,
No poem proud, I chanting bring to thee, nor mastery's rapturous verse,
But a cluster containing night's darkness and blood-dripping wounds,
And psalms of the dead.

In these lines, Whitman juxtaposes the beauty of nature ("the dazzling sun around thee") with the brutality of war ("night's darkness and blood-dripping wounds"). The image of the victress on the peaks suggests a kind of triumph over adversity, and the psalms of the dead speak to the solemnity and reverence with which Whitman regards those who have lost their lives in battle.


Whitman's use of language in "Reconciliation" is both lyrical and powerful. He employs a variety of poetic devices, including repetition, imagery, and metaphor, to convey his message. One particularly striking example of this is the following passage:

O the sun of the world will ascend, dazzling, and take his height, and you too will ascend,
Till you loftier and fiercer than before will strike out yourself as with axes wielded,
O future western star,
Denoting greater than all your own—your size and brightness transcending,
No more a laggard in love now,
But a hero intrepid, sleeping no more on the ground,
But issuing forth to the manly deed of the conqueror,
Most potent, most huge and vigorous,
(Unspeakable, mad, charge—O Liberty, let others despair of you,)
O Libertad—O beloved of all!
O the freer the passage you give, the nobler the aim you seek,
O the greatening pride, the immense ambition, to belong to the development of the continent,
To California, or inland, to the south or north,
To Oregon or Nevada, to the vast pastoral plains, and to the mines,
To the departing brave who have left us en masse,
To shoot the rapids of the Columbia, and the heights of the Sacramento,
To ken the secret of the wilderness,
To be a journeyer among the mountains, or a grape-grower in the valleys,
To be a fisherman off Newfoundland, or a farmer in the backwoods of Canada,
To eat no meat, drink no wine, but I love liberty more than I love my life.

Here, Whitman is using language to convey a sense of both grandeur and urgency. The repeated use of the word "O" suggests a kind of longing or yearning, and the metaphor of the "future western star" suggests a kind of pioneering spirit. The phrase "most potent, most huge and vigorous" conveys a sense of power and vitality, while the final line ("to eat no meat, drink no wine, but I love liberty more than I love my life") underscores the depth of Whitman's commitment to his ideals.


In "Reconciliation," Walt Whitman offers a powerful meditation on the themes of forgiveness and unification. Through vivid imagery and lyrical language, he conveys a sense of both the beauty and the brutality of the world, and suggests that it is only through a willingness to come together and forgive one another that we can truly achieve peace and prosperity. As we reflect on these themes today, at a time when our world is more divided than ever, it is worth remembering the message of "Reconciliation" and striving to live up to its ideals.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Walt Whitman's "Reconciliation" is a classic poem that explores the theme of reconciliation between two opposing forces. The poem is a powerful expression of the poet's belief in the power of love and unity to overcome hatred and division. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, structure, and language of the poem to gain a deeper understanding of its meaning and significance.

The poem begins with a powerful image of two opposing forces, represented by the Union and Confederate armies during the American Civil War. The poet describes the armies as "angry, cruel, and blood-thirsty," highlighting the intense hatred and animosity that existed between them. However, the poet also acknowledges that both sides were fighting for what they believed in, and that they were both driven by a sense of duty and honor.

The second stanza of the poem introduces the theme of reconciliation, as the poet imagines a future in which the two armies are no longer enemies, but instead are united in a common cause. The poet describes a scene in which the soldiers from both sides are "clasping hands" and "embracing" each other, symbolizing the power of love and unity to overcome even the deepest divisions.

The third stanza of the poem is perhaps the most powerful, as the poet describes the moment of reconciliation itself. The poet imagines the two armies coming together in a "mighty embrace," with the soldiers "kissing each other's face" and "swearing friendship." This image is a powerful expression of the poet's belief in the power of love and unity to overcome even the most bitter hatred and division.

The fourth stanza of the poem is a reflection on the meaning and significance of reconciliation. The poet acknowledges that the process of reconciliation is not easy, and that it requires a willingness to forgive and to let go of past grievances. However, the poet also emphasizes that the rewards of reconciliation are great, as it allows us to move forward and to build a better future together.

The final stanza of the poem is a call to action, as the poet urges us to embrace the spirit of reconciliation in our own lives. The poet encourages us to "clasp hands" with those who we may have once considered enemies, and to work together towards a common goal. This message is a powerful reminder of the importance of love and unity in overcoming division and hatred.

In terms of structure, the poem is written in free verse, with no set rhyme or meter. This allows the poet to express his ideas in a more natural and organic way, without being constrained by traditional poetic forms. The poem is also divided into five stanzas, each of which explores a different aspect of the theme of reconciliation.

In terms of language, the poem is characterized by its simplicity and directness. The poet uses simple, everyday language to express his ideas, which makes the poem accessible and easy to understand. However, the poem is also characterized by its powerful imagery, which helps to convey the emotional intensity of the poet's message.

Overall, "Reconciliation" is a powerful and inspiring poem that explores the theme of reconciliation between two opposing forces. The poem is a testament to the power of love and unity to overcome even the deepest divisions, and it serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation in our own lives.

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