Word over all, beautiful as the sky!
Beautiful that war, and all its deeds of carnage, must in time
be utterly lost;
That the hands of the sisters Death and Night, incessantly
wash again, and ever again, this soil’d world:
... For my enemy is dead — a man divine as myself is dead;
I look where he lies, white-faced and still, in the coffin — I
I bend down, and touch lightly with my lips the white face in
Walt Whitman (1819–1892 ), America’s most revered poet, spent much of the American Civil War as a volunteer wound-dresser in hospitals in Washington, D.C., nursing injured Union soldiers, helping them write letters to their wives and families, witnessing their agonies, and not infrequently watching them suffer and die. Like Lincoln, whom he loved, Whitman understood that once the war was over, national reconciliation would become the country’s foremost task. As “Reconciliation” so powerfully indicates, he also knew that the self-serving mythology believed by peoples at war — that the enemy is savage, despicable, all but inhuman and the embodiment of evil — masks the far more unsettling truth that the enemy is made up of people much like oneself. “Reconciliation” is now among the most loved of Whitman’s shorter poems.