This book is the first to offer a comprehensive selection of Walt Whitman’s Civil War poetry and prose with a full commentary on each work. Ed Folsom and Christopher Merrill carry on a dialogue with Whitman (and with each other) as they invite readers to trace how Whitman’s writing about the Civil War develops, shifts, and manifests itself in different genres throughout the years of the war. The book offers forty selections of Whitman’s war writings, including not only the well-known war poems but also his prose and personal letters. Each are followed by Folsom’s critical examination and then by Merrill’s afterword, suggesting broader contexts for thinking about the selection.
The real democratic reader, Whitman said, “must himself or herself construct indeed the poem, argument, history, metaphysical essay—the text furnishing the hints, the clue, the start or frame-work,” because what is needed for democracy to flourish is “a nation of supple and athletic minds.” Folsom and Merrill model this kind of active reading and encourage both seasoned and new readers of Whitman’s war writings to enter into the challenging and exhilarating mode of talking back to Whitman, arguing with him, and learning from him.
“Two ideal readers—a critic and a poet at the top of their games—comment brilliantly on forty selections from Drum-Taps and Memoranda During the War, along with relevant letters to illustrate the pathos and poetry that run hand in hand through Whitman’s rendering of the Civil War. Strongly recommended for both students and scholars.”—Jerome Loving, author, Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself
“When Whitman’s most knowledgeable and important interlocutor, Ed Folsom, teams up with one of our country’s wisest and most astute poets, Christopher Merrill, the result is essential reading for anyone who would better understand Whitman and the country he sang, which is still reckoning with its legacy of slavery and violence.” —Matt Miller, coeditor, Every Hour, Every Atom: A Collection of Walt Whitman’s Early Notebooks and Fragments (Iowa, 2020)