Among the hospital poems, "The Wound-Dresser" by Walt Whitman is one of the best and finest. I wonder if anybody here can help me to understand two lines of this piece.

But in silence, in dreams’ projections,
While the world of gain and appearance and mirth goes on,
So soon what is over forgotten, and waves wash the imprints off the sand,
With hinged knees returning I enter the doors, (while for you up there,
Whoever you are, follow without noise and be of strong heart.)

Who is the subject of "follow" and "be" in the last line? Are these verbs imperative?

I dress a wound in the side, deep, deep,
But a day or two more, for see the frame all wasted and sinking,
And the yellow-blue countenance see.

What is that "for" in the middle of second line? What does he mean by "frame"? I have no idea about what he means by the last two lines.

  • 3
    I don’t know why it would be written ‘for see’, but ‘foresee’ makes sense in context, anticipating the patient’s body (frame) wasting away in the coming days.
    – Spagirl
    Commented Mar 28, 2020 at 12:00

2 Answers 2


The text of the poem establishes that "you" refers to

O maidens and young men I love and that love me,

Who are asking about the war and the time in the hospital. (The first stanza has the asking; the second starts with establishing the reply is to them.)

These askers are invited to "follow" his memory-journey back to that time and imagine themselves right behind him, silently observing.

In that context, the "for see" means "because, as I urge you to observe" that the wounded patient has already become very thin and wasted, and the skin has an unhealthy colour. This patient will live only "a day or two more" despite the care from the narrator.


I wonder if the 'Whoever' informs your question about who is doing the following and being. Rather than specifying a single person and asking who that one person is, the statement then would address a general reader. No matter who it is 'up there' looking down reading his words they ought to keep a strong heart and carry on.

To me the lines read almost like a template: "But a day or two more, for [I] see the frame all wasted and sinking, and the yellow-blue countenance [I] see". By leaving out the pronoun "I" the reader is included, and 'see' becomes an imperative, instructing the reader to 'see' for themself what the words describe. The image is drawn into further light this way, because it matters not who is doing the seeing, only that the wounds are being seen.

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