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Memoranda During the War
by Walt Whitman
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"Whitman kept notes on his Washington experiences, later working them up into newspaper articles and lectures, which in 1876 he published in a limited edition under the title Memoranda During the War. The Memoranda are now republished under the editorship of Peter Coviello, with a well-informed, thoughtful introduction and succinct notes."--JM Coetzee, The New York Review of Books
"These 'impromptu jottings'--descriptions of soldiers' last breaths; their recoveries; their requests for toothbrushes, pickles, rice pudding, fresh underwear, a good book, a pen, an ice cream treat, a letter to be sent home--later became 'Memoranda During the War,' a slim volume that Whitman published in a private edition in 1876.... It now resurfaces--to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the first edition of 'Leaves of Grass,' also reissued by Oxford University Press--in an authoritative version, thoughtfully annotated and introduced by Peter Coviello."--Los Angeles Times Book Review
"As Peter Coviello points out in his excellent introduction to this volume, Whitman came late to the scene of the Civil War, but, when he did so, he produced one of the few truly indispensable books about it. Memoranda During the War is written in prose that often compares well for beauty and intensity with the best poems in Leaves of Grass. It is easy to see why the book has served as a model for writers on the desolations of war from Stephen Crane to Hemingway to our own day."--Michael Moon, Johns Hopkins University
"When Walt Whitman said that the real Civil War would never get into the books, he was wrong. It got into this one. Memoranda During the War is a brave and beautiful act of witness by America's greatest poet--and one of her greatest souls."--Roy Morris, Jr., author of The Better Angel: Walt Whitman in the Civil War
In December of 1862, having read his brother's name in a casualty list, Walt Whitman rushed from Brooklyn to the war front, where he found his brother wounded but recovering. But Whitman also found there a "new world," a world dense with horror and revelation. Memoranda During the War is Whitman's testament to the anguish, heroism, and terror of the Civil War. The book consists of journal entries extending from Whitman's arrival on the front in 1862 through to the war's conclusion in 1865. Whitman details his encounters with soldiers and doctors, meditates on particular battles and on the meanings of the war for the nation, and recounts his wordless though peculiarly intimate public exchanges with President Lincoln, a man Whitman saw often on the streets of Washington and by whom he was deeply fascinated. The book offers an astounding amalgam of death portraits, anecdotes of battle, last words, messages to distant loved ones, and remarkably restrained and muted descriptions of pain, dismemberment, and dying--all of it, however grim, suffused with Whitman's undiminished enthusiasm and affection for these young soldiers. And throughout, we find Whitman laboring with heroic determination to sustain and nourish his once-ardent faith in America and American life, even as the nation unleashed unprecedented violence upon itself. Edited and introduced by Peter Coviello, the book also includes Whitman's famous speech "The Death of Abraham Lincoln," selected poems, and a letter to the parents of a deceased soldier. Memoranda During the War is a powerful portrait of a nation at war written by one of our greatest poets.
About the Author
Peter Coviello is Associate Professor of English at Bowdoin College and currently chair of the Program in Gay and Lesbian Studies. He is the author of Intimacy in America: Dreams of Affiliation in Antebellum Literature.
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