Summary and Analysis: Calamus Cavalry Crossing a Ford


The poet describes the cavalry unit, "a line in long array," winding its "serpentine course" between two "green islands," the men's weapons shining in the sun. The soldiers become visible as they emerge from the "silvery river." These "brownfaced men" appear clearly, "each person a picture."

This is an excellent pictorial poem and Whitman presents two pictures in seven lines. The first picture is that of a cavalry unit winding its way to the river. The second picture, of the men entering and emerging from the river, has elements of individuation and distinctness in it. The poet renders a total picture by combining these elements and by giving them a graphic quality. Whitman is adept in handling movement and color, and both these elements contribute to the effect of the poem. The tone and the temper of the poem are also important. The poet's response to war here is less romantic than in the earlier poems of the group. The poet is face-to-face with the reality of war on the battlefront now.