Cavalry Crossing a Ford
A LINE in long array where they wind betwixt green islands, They take a serpentine course, their arms flash in the sun-hark to the musical clank, Behold the silvery river, in it the splashing horses loitering stop to drink, Behold the brown-faced men, each group, each person a picture, the negligent rest on the saddles, Some emerge on the opposite bank, others are just entering the ford- while, Scarlet and blue and snowy white, The guidon flags flutter gayly in the wind.
I SEE before me now a traveling army halting, Below a fertile valley spread, with barns and the orchards of summer, Behind, the terraced sides of a mountain, abrupt, in places rising high, Broken, with rocks, with clinging cedars, with tall shapes dingily seen, The numerous camp-fires scatter'd near and far, some away up on the mountain, The shadowy forms of men and horses, looming, large-sized, flickering, And over all the sky-the sky! far, far out of reach, studded, breaking out, the eternal stars.
Bivouac on a Mountain Side
WITH its cloud of skirmishers in advance, With now the sound of a single shot snapping like a whip, and now an irregular volley, The swarming ranks press on and on, the dense brigades press on, Glittering dimly, toiling under the sun- the dust-cover'd men, In columns rise and fall to the undulations of the ground, With artillery interspers'd- the wheels rumble, the horses sweat, As the army corps advances.
Any Army Corps on the March
BY the bivouac's fitful flame, A procession winding around me, solemn and sweet and slow- but first I note, The tents of the sleeping army, the fields' and woods' dim outline, The darkness lit by spots of kindled fire, the silence, Like a phantom far or near an occasional figure moving, The shrubs and trees, (as I lift my eyes they seem to be stealthily watching me,) While wind in procession thoughts, O tender and wondrous thoughts, Of life and death, of home and the past and loved, and of those that are far away; A solemn and slow procession there as I sit on the ground, By the bivouac's fitful flame.
By the Bivouac's Fitful Flame
COME up from the fields father, here's a letter from our Pete, And come to the front door mother, here's a letter from thy dear son. Lo, 'tis autumn, Lo, where the trees, deeper green, yellower and redder, Cool and sweeten Ohio's villages with leaves fluttering in the moderate wind, Where apples ripe in the orchards hang and grapes on the trellis'd vines, (Smell you the smell of the grapes on the vines? Smell you the buckwheat where the bees were lately buzzing?) Above all, lo, the sky so calm, so transparent after the rain, and with wondrous clouds, Below too, all calm, all vital and beautiful, and the farm prospers well. Down in the fields all prospers well, But now from the fields come father, come at the daughter's call. And come to the entry mother, to the front door come right away. Fast as she can she hurries, something ominous, her steps trembling, She does not tarry to smooth her hair nor adjust her cap. Open the envelope quickly, O this is not our son's writing, yet his name is sign'd, O a strange hand writes for our dear son, O stricken mother's soul! All swims before her eyes, flashes with black, she catches the main words only, Sentences broken, gunshot wound in the breast, cavalry skirmish, taken to hospital, At present low, but will soon be better. Ah now the single figure to me, Amid all teeming and wealthy Ohio with all its cities and farms, Sickly white in the face and dull in the head, very faint, By the jamb of a door leans. Grieve not so, dear mother, (the just-grown daughter speaks through her sobs, The little sisters huddle around speechless and dismay'd,) See, dearest mother, the letter says Pete will soon be better. Alas poor boy, he will never be better, (nor may-be needs to be better, that brave and simple soul,) While they stand at home at the door he is dead already, The only son is dead. But the mother needs to be better, She with thin form presently drest in black, By day her meals untouch'd, then at night fitfully sleeping, often waking, In the midnight waking, weeping, longing with one deep longing, O that she might withdraw unnoticed, silent from life escape and withdraw, To follow, to seek, to be with her dear dead son.
Come up from the Fields Father
VIGIL strange I kept on the field one night; When you my son and my comrade dropt at my side that day, One look I but gave which your dear eyes return'd with a look I shall never forget, One touch of your hand to mine O boy, reach'd up as you lay on the ground, Then onward I sped in the battle, the even-contested battle, Till late in the night reliev'd to the place at last again I made my way, Found you in death so cold dear comrade, found your body son of responding kisses, (never again on earth responding,) Bared your face in the starlight, curious the scene, cool blew the moderate night-wind, Long there and then in vigil I stood, dimly around me the battlefield spreading, Vigil wondrous and vigil sweet there in the fragrant silent night, But not a tear fell, not even a long-drawn sigh, long, long I gazed, Then on the earth partially reclining sat by your side leaning my chin in my hands, Passing sweet hours, immortal and mystic hours with you dearest comrade- not a tear, not a word, Vigil of silence, love and death, vigil for you my son and my soldier, As onward silently stars aloft, eastward new ones upward stole, Vigil final for you brave boy, (I could not save you, swift was your death, I faithfully loved you and cared for you living, I think we shall surely meet again,) Till at latest lingering of the night, indeed just as the dawn appear'd, My comrade I wrapt in his blanket, envelop'd well his form, Folded the blanket well, tucking it carefully over head and carefully under feet, And there and then and bathed by the rising sun, my son in his grave, in his rude-dug grave I deposited, Ending my vigil strange with that, vigil of night and battle-field dim, Vigil for boy of responding kisses, (never again on earth responding,) Vigil for comrade swiftly slain, vigil I never forget, how as day brighten'd, I rose from the chill ground and folded my soldier well in his blanket, And buried him where he fell.
Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night
A March in the Hard-Prest,
A MARCH in the ranks hard-prest, and the road unknown, A route through a heavy wood with muffled steps in the darkness, Our army foil'd with loss severe, and the sullen remnant retreating, Till after midnight glimmer upon us the lights of a dim-lighted building, We come to an open space in the woods, and halt by the dim-lighted building, 'Tis a large old church at the crossing roads, now an impromptu hospital, Entering but for a minute I see a sight beyond all the pictures and poems ever made, Shadows of deepest, deepest black, just lit by moving candles and lamps, And by one great pitchy torch stationary with wild red flame and clouds of smoke, By these, crowds, groups of forms vaguely I see on the floor, some in the pews laid down, At my feet more distinctly a soldier, a mere lad, in danger of bleeding to death, (he is shot in the abdomen,) I stanch the blood temporarily, (the youngster's face is white as a lily,) Then before I depart I sweep my eyes o'er the scene fain to absorb it all, Faces, varieties, postures beyond description, most in obscurity, some of them dead, Surgeons operating, attendants holding lights, the smell of ether, odor of blood, The crowd, O the crowd of the bloody forms, the yard outside also fill'd, Some on the bare ground, some on planks or stretchers, some in the death-spasm sweating, An occasional scream or cry, the doctor's shouted orders or calls, The glisten of the little steel instruments catching the glint of the torches, These I resume as I chant, I see again the forms, I smell the odor, Then hear outside the orders given, Fall in, my men, fall in; But first I bend to the dying lad, his eyes open, a half-smile gives he me, Then the eyes close, calmly close, and I speed forth to the darkness, Resuming, marching, ever in darkness marching, on in the ranks, The unknown road still marching.
and the Road Unknown
A SIGHT in camp in the daybreak gray and dim, As from my tent I emerge so early sleepless, As slow I walk in the cool fresh air the path near by the hospital tent, Three forms I see on stretchers lying, brought out there untended lying, Over each the blanket spread, ample brownish woolen blanket, Gray and heavy blanket, folding, covering all. Curious I halt and silent stand, Then with light fingers I from the face of the nearest the first just lift the blanket; Who are you elderly man so gaunt and grim, with well-gray'd hair, and flesh all sunken about the eyes? Who are you my dear comrade? Then to the second I step- and who are you my child and darling? Who are you sweet boy with cheeks yet blooming? Then to the third- a face nor child nor old, very calm, as of beautiful yellow-white ivory; Young man I think I know you- I think this face is the face of the Christ himself, Dead and divine and brother of all, and here again he lies.
A Sight in Camp in the Daybreak Grey and Dim
AS toilsome I wander'd Virginia's woods, To the music of rustling leaves kick'd by my feet, (for 'twas autumn,) I mark'd at the foot of a tree the grave of a soldier; Mortally wounded he and buried on the retreat, (easily all could understand,) The halt of a mid-day hour, when up! no time to lose-yet this sign left, On a tablet scrawl'd and nail'd on the tree by the grave, Bold, cautious, true, and my loving comrade. Long, long I muse, then on my way go wandering, Many a changeful season to follow, and many a scene of life, Yet at times through changeful season and scene, abrupt, alone, or in the crowded street, Comes before me the unknown soldier's grave, comes the inscription rude in Virginia's woods, Bold, cautious, true, and my loving comrade.
As Toilsome I Wander'd Virginia's Woods
NOT the pilot has charged himself to bring his ship into port, though beaten back and many times baffled; Not the pathfinder penetrating inland weary and long, By deserts parch'd, snows chill'd, rivers wet, perseveres till he reaches his destination, More than I have charged myself, heeded or unheeded, to compose march for these States, For a battle-call, rousing to arms if need be, years, centuries hence.
Not the Pilot
YEAR that trembled and reel'd beneath me! Your summer wind was warm enough, yet the air I breathed froze me, A thick gloom fell through the sunshine and darken'd me, Must I change my triumphant songs? said I to myself, Must I indeed learn to chant the cold dirges of the baffled? And sullen hymns of defeat?
Year that Trembled and Reel'd Beneath Me
The Wound Dresser
AN old man bending I come among new faces, Years looking backward resuming in answer to children, Come tell us old man, as from young men and maidens that love me, (Arous'd and angry, I'd thought to beat the alarum, and urge relentless war, But soon my fingers fail'd me, my face droop'd and I resign'd myself, To sit by the wounded and soothe them, or silently watch the dead;) Years hence of these scenes, of these furious passions, these chances, Of unsurpass'd heroes, (was one side so brave? the other was equally brave;) Now be witness again, paint the mightiest armies of earth, Of those armies so rapid so wondrous what saw you to tell us? What stays with you latest and deepest? of curious panics, Of hard-fought engagements or sieges tremendous what deepest remains?
O maidens and young men I love and that love me, What you ask of my days those the strangest and sudden your talking recalls, Soldier alert I arrive after a long march cover'd with sweat and dust, In the nick of time I come, plunge in the fight, loudly shout in the rush of successful charge, Enter the captur'd works-yet lo, like a swift-running river they fade, Pass and are gone they fade-I dwell not on soldiers' perils or soldiers' joys, (Both I remember well-many the hardships, few the joys, yet I was content.) 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.) Bearing the bandages, water and sponge, Straight and swift to my wounded I go, Where they lie on the ground after the battle brought in, Where their priceless blood reddens the grass the ground, Or to the rows of the hospital tent, or under the roof'd hospital, To the long rows of cots up and down each side I return, To each and all one after another I draw near, not one do I miss, An attendant follows holding a tray, he carries a refuse pail, Soon to be fill'd with clotted rags and blood, emptied, and fill'd again. I onward go, I stop, With hinged knees and steady hand to dress wounds, I am firm with each, the pangs are sharp yet unavoidable, One turns to me his appealing eyes- poor boy! I never knew you, Yet I think I could not refuse this moment to die for you, if that would save you.
On, on I go, (open doors of time! open hospital doors!) The crush'd head I dress, (poor crazed hand tear not the bandage away,) The neck of the cavalry-man with the bullet through and through examine, Hard the breathing rattles, quite glazed already the eye, yet life struggles hard, (Come sweet death! be persuaded O beautiful death! In mercy come quickly.) From the stump of the arm, the amputated hand, I undo the clotted lint, remove the slough, wash off the matter and blood, Back on his pillow the soldier bends with curv'd neck and side falling head, His eyes are closed, his face is pale, he dares not look on the bloody stump, And has not yet look'd on it. 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. I dress the perforated shoulder, the foot with the bullet-wound, Cleanse the one with a gnawing and putrid gangrene, so sickening, so offensive, While the attendant stands behind aside me holding the tray and pail. I am faithful, I do not give out, The fractur'd thigh, the knee, the wound in the abdomen, These and more I dress with impassive hand, (yet deep in my breast a fire, a burning flame.)
Thus in silence in dreams' projections, Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals, The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand, I sit by the restless all the dark night, some are so young, Some suffer so much, I recall the experience sweet and sad, (Many a soldier's loving arms about this neck have cross'd and rested, Many a soldier's kiss dwells on these bearded lips.)
LONG, too long America, Traveling roads all even and peaceful you learn'd from joys and prosperity only, But now, ah now, to learn from crises of anguish, advancing, grappling with direst fate and recoiling not, And now to conceive and show to the world what your children en-masse really are, (For who except myself has yet conceiv'd what your children en-masse really are?)
Long, too Long, America
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