Tuesday, April 12, 2011

War is not Civil for tan-faced prairie boys and other living things*

I read on a news sidebar that today marks the 150th anniversary of the first shots of the Civil War. When I notice how my life is speeding through its course, decade gobbled by decade, 150 years just does not seem like that long ago to me. I wish I knew at 25 that I would feel this way now, that I would know that Time does this but for some reason Time does not share itself with the very young.

I found on msnbc.com a marvelous photo blog article about the Liljenquist family who, in just over 15 years of collecting Civil War photographs, has "amassed over 700 images, the majority now on display at the National Archive." There is a link at the article for more information about the collection.

I looked at the remarkable images and this one, of a Confederate soldier, stopped my scrolling. I have stared at this face long and long tonight, wondering if he felt his side was right right up to the end, wondering how his life came to an end. Did he die on some battlefield, his light gray Confederate eyes meeting the sky blue eyes of a Union foe before the end? Was there a moment when they each were aware of a soul supporting the gaze? Which soul did they sense in that moment, their own or the other? Did they suddenly realize there is no "other"?

O Tan-Faced Prairie-Boy by Walt Whitman
                                    (from The Civil War poems)

            O TAN-FACED prairie-boy,
            Before you came to camp came many a welcome gift,
            Praises and presents came and nourishing food, till at last among
               the recruits,
            You came, taciturn, with nothing to give-we but look'd on each
            When lo! more than all the gifts of the world you gave me.

*Of interest: The true story behind the Vietnam War protest poster, War is not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things.



mythopolis said...

A meaningful reflection...a meditation. Thanks.

word verification: ashes

susan said...

The old adage that says 'age is not for the faint of heart' is certainly true. One thing I came to realize once I passed beyond forty is that youth is always beautiful even when dressed in clown clothes.

I hope this handsome young man lived to be old and at peace. I've seen so many films of battlefields I'd hate to imagine him dying on one.

The poem is a beauty.

Rob-bear said...

Ironically, perhaps, Ken Burns' series on the Civil War was playing on PBS last week, and I was refreshing my memory of that war online as well.

You're right; 150 years isn't that long ago, especially for a guy who is (not quite, but . . .) pushing half that age.

Nancy said...

I agree with the time passing. It doesn't seem like 150 years is that long anymore. If I can pass through 1/3 of those years without blinking an eye, well, it was only a little over a lifetime.

Lydia said...

mythopolis~ The word verification was the hush after the meditation.

susan~ I have thought that about youth, how it in and of itself is a thing of beauty (clown clothes included!). Again, I wish I had known that at 25 when I felt tired and jaded.
I will think of the same long life for him. I will think that he had a kind heart to go along with his perfect features.

Rob-bear~ Oh, that Civil War series by Ken Burns (anything by Ken Burns) is so splendid. Remembering it brings chills to me.
I am pondering the idea that, as we get along in years and if we are paying attention, we are given this ability to see Time in a different light, to sense its blends and bends.

Nancy~ I was at your blog a few nights ago and did not leave a comment. Sorry, because it was so lovely having one from you!
Indeed, you are so right = ". . . well, it was only a little over a lifetime." Isn't it cool to be able to see it that way now?!

Fireblossom said...

...and we are still sending young men (and women) off to die in wars, and we are still a nation divided. :-(

Lydia said...

Fireblossom~ ...and you make a solid and sad point. :(

Freda said...

The passing of the years seems to get faster, yet the years gone past are very near. I've often thought about how I wish I had asked loved ones more questions about their lives and loves. My knowledge of the Civil War is limited to one or two books, but the Walt Whitman poem gives a whole new meaning. The photo is so poignant as are your comments.

secret, fragile skies said...


Beautiful posts on the war and Whitman's poem, perfect. Thank you for visiting and your encouraging comments. This was in the NY Times, thought you would like (ties in Whitman's words: "Maybe Walt Whitman, the poet and sometime journalist who had worked as a nurse in the appalling Union hospitals, understood and saw it best. “Future years,” he said, “will never know the seething hell, the black infernal background of the countless minor scenes and interiors … of the Secession War, and it is best they should not.

“The real war,” Whitman admonished us, “will never get in the books.” We are, nonetheless, obligated to try.
April 11, 2011,
A Conflict’s Acoustic Shadows

Lydia said...

Freda~ The first line in your comment seems like the beginning of a poem or a song. So true. I am impressed that you have read two books about the Civil War! Yes, the Whitman poem is wonderful and really spoke to me in conjunction with the young man's image.

secret, fragile skies~ Well, aren't you wonderful for tying this post in with the comments by providing the NY Times article quote?! It is perfect. I notice that it is a piece written by Ken Burns, so am definitely going to read the full article. Thank you so much.



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