Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
"Lo, Victress on the Peaks" (1865–1866)
Author:
Ignoffo, Matthew
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

First published in Sequel to Drum-Taps (1865–1866), this poem was revised, grouped under "Bathed in War's Perfume" in the 1871 and 1876 editions, and then placed in the "Drum-Taps" cluster in 1881.

"Libertad" (Spanish for "liberty") is Whitman's name for a goddess-like personification of American independence. The "chanting" poet of America offers "psalms of the dead" to Libertad. However, the Civil War was the world's vain conspiracy to prevent Libertad from creating the American Dream. By addressing Libertad as "Victress," Whitman passionately assures her that she has thwarted all enemies, triumphing "with the dazzling sun around thee."

The poem expresses Whitman's common theme of recalling the tragedy of the war's dead while looking forward to a better future. Written in irregular form, it begins with the exultant six-syllable title line, swells to lines as long as twenty syllables, then recedes to the somber five-syllable closing. This structure, suggesting the ebb and flow of Libertad throughout history, warns that the Victress must be eternally vigilant.

Bibliography

Bensko, John. "Narrating Position and Force in Whitman's Drum-Taps." Walt Whitman Centennial International Symposium. Ed. Manuel Villar Raso, Miguel Martinez Lopez, and Rosa Morillas Sanchez. Granada: Universidad de Granada, 1992. 33–43.

Burrison, William. "Whitman's Drum-Taps Reviewed: The Good, Gray, Tender Mother-Man and the Fierce, Red, Convulsive Rhythm of War." Walt Whitman: Here and Now. Ed. Joann P. Krieg. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1985. 157–169.

Ignoffo, Matthew. What the War Did to Whitman. New York: Vantage, 1975.

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass: Comprehensive Reader's Edition. Ed. Harold W. Blodgett and Sculley Bradley. New York: New York UP, 1965.


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