The removal of Virginia’s Confederate memorials continues to be controversial.
Many, including Mr. Jesse Ring ("A Virginian responds to statues editorial," Aug . 29), call for reconciliation and unity, but how do we get there?
Our great American poet Walt Whitman may show the way. At war’s end, in his poem “Reconciliation,” he wrote: “… my enemy is dead, a man divine as myself is dead, / I look where he lies white-faced in the coffin — I draw near, / Bend down and touch lightly with my lips the white face in the coffin.” It is a remarkable gesture. The poet was all for Union victory and the abolition of slavery, but lived what he wrote.
During the war he regularly visited the Washington, D.C., hospitals where he ministered to sick and wounded soldiers, both Union and Confederate.
In his caring response to each individual (“a man divine as myself”), he was living out his dream of American democracy, expressed in Leaves of Grass.
His pre-war poem “Song of Myself” draws inspiration from the grass that grows “among black folks as among white, / Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same.” (I only recently learned that “Tuckahoe” refers to an English Colonial settler in eastern Virginia.) For Whitman, the common grass beneath our feet was a symbol of democratic equality.
After the war Whitman mused that the best memorial might be “the land entire” where so many bodies fell, were lost, and have been, as the poet predicted, “in Nature’s chemistry distill’d … in every future grain of wheat and ear of corn, and every flower that grows, and every breath we draw.” Our national battlefield parks and cemeteries are such places, and that is where our Civil War monuments belong. We go there specifically to contemplate the war and remember the combatants.
Confederate memorials in the public square must come down. Perhaps some of the better sculptures can find their places in our battlefield parks — at Manassas, Gettysburg, or Sharpsburg — surrounded by acres of grass.
Robert Schultz, Salem