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Sacrifice and Modern War LiteratureThe Battle of Waterloo to the War on Terror$
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Alex Houen and Jan-Melissa Schramm

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198806516

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198806516.001.0001

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The Poetics of American Civil War Sacrifice

The Poetics of American Civil War Sacrifice

(p.65) 4 The Poetics of American Civil War Sacrifice
Sacrifice and Modern War Literature

Randall Fuller

Oxford University Press

The nature and meaning of sacrifice were fiercely contested in the aftermath of the American Civil War. Historians have documented a long struggle by veterans to ensure the continuing remembrance of their sacrifice. At the same time, American politicians tended to demur from acknowledging these sacrifices, as doing so would reopen the rift that had prompted war in the first place. This chapter probes the work of three Civil War poets—Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville, and Walt Whitman—to uncover the meaning of sacrifice during and after the war. Dickinson’s verses about psychic pain and dislocation are increasingly understood as simultaneous expositions of the personal and political: Melville’s knotty, multi-perspectival poems about the war, Battle-Pieces, question the ideological freight of sacrifice, and Whitman sought to honour the sacrifice of soldiers through a poetics he hoped would heal the body politic. Ultimately only Whitman’s consolatory poetry would find a postwar audience.

Keywords:   Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, American Civil War, poetry, sacrifice

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