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"Bivouac on a Mountain Side" (1865)

Composed during the Civil War, "Bivouac on a Mountain Side" was first published in Drum-Taps (1865) and incorporated into the body of Leaves of Grass in 1871 as part of the "Drum-Taps" cluster, where it remained through subsequent editions. "Bivouac" is one of several "Drum-Taps" poems remarkable for their concise and photographic precision of imagery.

The poem depicts an army halting at close of day. The speaker's eye takes in a valley, "barns and...orchards," a mountain spread with "clinging cedars," and—punctuating the scene—the "numerous camp-fires" and "large-sized" shadows of men and horses. The poem offers a view that is both arrestingly literal and symbolic. The literal image, which seems to be almost instantaneously observed by the speaker's eye, invites comparison with the then-nascent art of photography, which fascinated Whitman. At the same time, items like the "large-sized" shadows and "eternal stars," with their intimation of the larger-than-life struggle in which these troops are involved, seem to suggest the profounder significances Whitman continually observed in the war.


Dougherty, James. Walt Whitman and the Citizen's Eye. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1993.

Erkkila, Betsy. Whitman the Political Poet. New York: Oxford UP, 1989.

Matthiessen, F.O. American Renaissance. 1941. London: Oxford UP, 1974.

Waskow, Howard. Whitman: Explorations in Form. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1966.

Whitman, Walt. Walt Whitman's "Drum-Taps" (1865) and "Sequel to Drum-Taps" (1865–6): A Facsimile Reproduction. Ed. F. DeWolfe Miller. Gainesville, Fla.: Scholars' Facsimiles and Reprints, 1959.

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