Monday, June 20, 2011

Andrew Hudgins - At Chancellorsville: The Battle of the Wilderness

This poem follows directly after Child on the Marsh.  Just the page prior, Lanier was a child caught in the sucking embrace of his mother and the earth.  Now he is caught in the suck of the earth as wilderness battlefield.  The comfort of his mother's breast is replaced by the encouragement of his brother, Clifford, to steal the fresh blue shirt off the dead body of a Union soldier.

Hudgins begins:

          He was an Indiana corporal
          shot in the thigh when their line broke
          in animal disarray...

Consider how much Hudgins accomplishes in these three short lines:
- Lanier is now in battle against a Union enemy
- The Union is losing this battle
- The soldier was shot in the thigh; setting up the coming temptation of the clean blue shirt
- The animals in this poem are not the catfish, snakes, and bees of the marsh; now the animals are men.

Lanier's own shirt is disintegrating on his body.  He has been at this a while.  Lanier curses his brother's attempts to persuade him to take the shirt.  He imagines:

          the slack flesh shifting underneath
          my hands, the other-person stink
          of that man's shirt, so newly his,

Even so, Lanier decides to go back for the shirt only to find that someone else has already beat them to it,

          So I had compromised my soul
          for nothing I would want to use -

Obviously, this is a critical moment in Lanier's life as Hudgins imagines it.  He will come out of this war carrying profound changes.  What I like about what Hudgins has done is he chooses a small, quiet moment on the battlefield -- not an explosion, an amputation, or a moment of stark violence. 

Hudgins ends:

          By autumn, we wore so much blue
          we could have passed for New York infantry.

1 comment:

  1. You're entirely right, this is a powerful transition from the opening poem. Dang, I want to buy this book now, so I can read all of the poems. I appreciate how you pulled out those lines that connect him to his childhood and family. The tension present with his brother comes along too. I thought it especially perceptive of you to pick up on the marsh animals of his boyhood transforming into men, and his struggle with taking the shirt off of a dead soldier as evidence of his wanting to stay above that fray.

    When he looks back at that moment from the point of knowledge that there would be no shortage of blue shirts, I think it speaks well to your point about how the war would change him. The first experience confronted him, but I get the sense that the repetition to follow, the number of dead soldiers leaves him somewhat jaded, and who could blame him. But there is a reflective quality to him that has me intrigued about his character and how it will develop both in the poems' telling of his story, and by the complexities of his experience at war.