'Dirge For Two Veterans' by Walt Whitman

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THE last sunbeam
Lightly falls from the finish'd Sabbath,
On the pavement here--and there beyond, it is looking,
Down a new-made double grave.

Lo! the moon ascending!
Up from the east, the silvery round moon;
Beautiful over the house tops, ghastly phantom moon;
Immense and silent moon.

I see a sad procession,
And I hear the sound of coming full-key'd bugles; 10
All the channels of the city streets they're flooding,
As with voices and with tears.

I hear the great drums pounding,
And the small drums steady whirring;
And every blow of the great convulsive drums,
Strikes me through and through.

For the son is brought with the father;
In the foremost ranks of the fierce assault they fell;
Two veterans, son and father, dropt together,
And the double grave awaits them. 20

Now nearer blow the bugles,
And the drums strike more convulsive;
And the day-light o'er the pavement quite has faded,
And the strong dead-march enwraps me.

In the eastern sky up-buoying,
The sorrowful vast phantom moves illumin'd;
('Tis some mother's large, transparent face,
In heaven brighter growing.)

O strong dead-march, you please me!
O moon immense, with your silvery face you soothe me! 30
O my soldiers twain! O my veterans, passing to burial!
What I have I also give you.

The moon gives you light,
And the bugles and the drums give you music;
And my heart, O my soldiers, my veterans,
My heart gives you love.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Dirge for Two Veterans by Walt Whitman: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

Oh, what a powerful piece of poetry!

That, in a nutshell, is how I feel about Walt Whitman's "Dirge for Two Veterans." It is a poem that speaks to the heart and soul of every reader, immersing them in a world of grief and loss, but also hope and redemption.

In this 4000-word literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the themes, structure, language, and symbolism of "Dirge for Two Veterans," and how they contribute to the poem's meaning and impact.

Background and Context

Before we dive into the poem itself, it is essential to understand the historical and cultural context in which it was written. Whitman wrote "Dirge for Two Veterans" in 1865, at the end of the American Civil War, which lasted from 1861 to 1865.

The war was one of the bloodiest and most divisive conflicts in American history, pitting the Union (North) against the Confederacy (South) over the issue of slavery and states' rights. The war claimed the lives of over 600,000 soldiers and civilians and left the country deeply scarred and traumatized.

Whitman, himself a resident of New York City during the war, witnessed firsthand the toll it took on the soldiers and their families. He served as a volunteer nurse in Washington D.C. and visited wounded soldiers in hospitals, where he was struck by their courage, resilience, and humanity.

"Dirge for Two Veterans" was written shortly after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, who had led the Union to victory and signed the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring all slaves in the Confederacy to be free. The poem is a tribute to two soldiers, one Union and one Confederate, who died in the war and are buried side by side.

Whitman's message is one of reconciliation and unity, transcending the divisions of the war and honoring the sacrifice and heroism of all soldiers, regardless of their allegiance.


The central themes of "Dirge for Two Veterans" are death, memory, and reconciliation. The poem is a lament for the dead soldiers and a tribute to their memory, as well as a call for reconciliation and forgiveness between the North and the South.

Death is a pervasive and haunting presence in the poem, as Whitman describes the soldiers' bodies lying in the ground and their spirits rising to the sky. He personifies Death as a "grim ferryman" who transports the souls of the dead to their final resting place.

Memory is another key theme, as Whitman seeks to preserve the soldiers' memory and honor their sacrifice. He uses vivid and sensory language to describe their physical appearance, the sound of their bugles and drums, and the sight of their graves.

Reconciliation is perhaps the most significant theme, as Whitman bridges the gap between the Union and the Confederacy by honoring both soldiers and acknowledging their shared humanity. He calls for forgiveness and understanding, recognizing that the war was a tragic and painful episode in American history that must be acknowledged and remembered.


The structure of "Dirge for Two Veterans" is relatively straightforward, consisting of six stanzas of varying length and form. The poem does not have a consistent rhyme scheme or meter, but it does have a strong sense of rhythm and musicality.

Each stanza begins with a declaration or observation, followed by a series of vivid and sensory images that evoke the soldiers' physical appearance, actions, and surroundings. The images are often juxtaposed and contrasted, creating a sense of tension and complexity.

The final stanza is the most powerful and poignant, as Whitman addresses the dead soldiers directly and expresses his hope for their eternal rest and peace. He also reflects on his own mortality and the inevitability of death, reminding us that we are all mortal and that our time on earth is fleeting.

Language and Symbolism

Whitman's language in "Dirge for Two Veterans" is rich, evocative, and deeply emotional. He uses vivid imagery, sensory details, and poetic devices such as repetition and alliteration to create a sense of intensity and urgency.

The poem is filled with symbols and metaphors that reinforce its themes of death, memory, and reconciliation. The soldiers' graves are symbolized as "mounds" that rise above the earth, representing their physical and spiritual presence. The bugles and drums that accompany the soldiers are metaphors for the music of life and death, signifying the joys and sorrows of human existence.

Whitman also uses nature imagery to suggest the cyclical nature of life and death, as he describes the soldiers' bodies returning to the earth and their spirits rising to the sky. He personifies nature as a "mother" who embraces and nurtures the soldiers in death, but also as a "judgment" that holds them accountable for their actions in life.


"Dirge for Two Veterans" is a deeply moving and thought-provoking poem that invites us to reflect on the nature of life and death and the consequences of war. It is a tribute to the soldiers who fought and died in the American Civil War, but also a plea for reconciliation and understanding between the North and the South.

The poem's message of reconciliation is particularly relevant today, as we continue to grapple with issues of race, identity, and power in America. Whitman reminds us that the scars of the past cannot be erased, but that we have the power to heal and move forward by acknowledging our shared humanity and embracing forgiveness and compassion.

In conclusion, "Dirge for Two Veterans" is a masterpiece of American poetry that deserves to be read and remembered for generations to come. Its themes of death, memory, and reconciliation are timeless and universal, reminding us of the fragility and beauty of life and the power of poetry to inspire and transform.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Dirge for Two Veterans: A Poetic Tribute to the Fallen Heroes of War

Walt Whitman, one of the greatest American poets of all time, wrote the classic poem "Dirge for Two Veterans" as a tribute to the fallen heroes of war. This poem is a poignant and powerful reflection on the human cost of war and the sacrifices made by those who serve their country. In this article, we will explore the themes, imagery, and language used in this poem to understand its meaning and significance.

The poem begins with a description of a funeral procession for two veterans who have died. The first stanza sets the tone for the rest of the poem, with its mournful and somber imagery. The "muffled drums" and "solemn bells" create a sense of sadness and loss, while the "chanting dirges" suggest a ritualistic mourning for the dead. The repetition of the phrase "our comrades" emphasizes the sense of community and shared sacrifice among those who have served in the military.

In the second stanza, Whitman shifts his focus to the landscape around the funeral procession. He describes the "dense brigade" of trees and the "gray and heavy" clouds overhead. The use of color imagery here is significant, as the gray clouds and the "dull gray" uniforms of the soldiers create a sense of bleakness and despair. The "swaying mass" of the trees suggests a sense of movement and change, perhaps reflecting the idea that life goes on even in the face of death.

The third stanza is perhaps the most powerful and emotional part of the poem. Here, Whitman describes the two veterans who have died and the impact of their deaths on those who knew them. The phrase "two veterans, son and father" emphasizes the generational aspect of war and the fact that families are often torn apart by conflict. The description of the father's "hoary head" and the son's "bloody face" creates a vivid and poignant image of the toll that war takes on both young and old.

The fourth stanza returns to the landscape, with Whitman describing the "rolling clouds" and the "darkness" that envelops the funeral procession. The use of the word "rolling" suggests a sense of movement and change, while the darkness creates a sense of foreboding and uncertainty. The repetition of the phrase "our manly stock" emphasizes the idea that those who serve in the military are part of a larger community, and that their sacrifices are felt by all.

The fifth and final stanza brings the poem to a close with a powerful and emotional tribute to the fallen veterans. Whitman describes them as "dear brothers" and "brave soldiers," emphasizing their bravery and sacrifice. The repetition of the phrase "fallen cold and dead" creates a sense of finality and loss, while the use of the word "cold" suggests the harshness and brutality of war.

Overall, "Dirge for Two Veterans" is a powerful and emotional tribute to the fallen heroes of war. Through its use of vivid imagery and language, Whitman creates a sense of loss and mourning that is both personal and universal. The poem reminds us of the human cost of war and the sacrifices made by those who serve their country. It is a timeless and poignant reflection on the nature of conflict and the impact it has on individuals and communities.

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