I read a poem called "Vigil strange I kept on the field one night" by Walt Whitman (reproduced below). One question I was asked about this poem is 'what is the subject of this poem?' For my understanding, it seems to ask 'what is the theme of this poem', so my answer is 'friendship and camaraderie in time of war', but it is wrong. The correct answer is 'reminiscence'.

I am wondering what the 'what is the subject of this poem' means. Doesn't it mean 'themes' of the poem?

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    "my answer is 'friendship and camaraderie in time of war', but it is wrong. The correct answer is 'reminiscence'." - it sounds like you have a bad literature teacher. IMO,i nterpreting the poem to be about friendship and camaraderie in time of war is just as valid as interpreting it to be about reminiscence. Very often in the study of literature, there is no 'right' or 'wrong' answer - only different interpretations. The important thing is to be able to back up your assertions. If you can make a good argument that the subject is friendship and camaraderie in time of war, good for you! – Rand al'Thor Feb 9 '18 at 13:35
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    Please provide the text of the poem instead of an image of the text. Images of text are inaccessible to blind users and cannot be adapted properly by people who need large text or other foreground-and-background colour combinations. – Christophe Strobbe Oct 17 '18 at 16:36

Actually it is difficult at times to differentiate between subject matter and theme of a work of art , one dissolves into the other. The only yard-stick is how one presents his case. Rand alThor shows where they mix and mingle.

However, in general, theme is the topic and a subject embodies that topic. For convenience's sake we would limit our discussion to a literary work only. Subject is what the work of art is about. So the subject matter is rather straight forward. For the theme you have to delve deep because subject matter hold the theme and is embodied in it. It may so happen that they may be same as shown by the learned critic in his comment for your example, but not always. Theme is what the author or poet wants to say or mean. In an allegory, subject matter is a means to an end (the theme).

Let us explain. The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde is an innocent story of a giant and children (subject matter) but at heart it is about autocracy and communism (theme)— compassion and love where God resides. Or Frost's Stopping by Wood on A Snowy Evening. It is about poets personal experience on a snowy evening, hence its subject matter. But at heart it is about man torn between the rival claims of material world and yearning for aesthetic pursuit, hence its theme.

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