Bohemian legends and other poems/The Return

For works with similar titles, see The Return.

THE RETURN.

 

Oh, the peaceful, quiet village, nestling midst the Bohemian hills,
With its humble straw-thatched hamlets clustering round the little church.
On one side the great lake stretches, fed by many bright mountain rills,
On the other side are forests, pine and cedar, silvery birch.

I can see it all before me, as I left it in my boyhood;
Left my parents, left my village, to go soldiering in the world.
Fifty years have come and faded—still the cross stands where it stood,
Only I am changed and weary, strange that this was once my world.

And now I come back with honors, with my medals, with all my fame,
Just to look upon the village where my happy boyhood strayed,
Just to seek out in the little churchyard the few graves that bear my name,
And to say a humble prayer where my parents low are laid.

Yes, I left them in my boyhood, careless of their bitter anguish—
And the warnings of my mother entered not my heedless ears,
Till years after, I lay wounded far from home in bitter anguish,
Then I felt my parent’s sorrow, then I realized their fears.

But with strength came happier feelings, and soon my soldier’s heart beat high,
When I heard I was promoted, and a medal graced my breast.
Still the war raged on unending, many a comrade saw I die,
While I rose and rose in station, with more medals on my breast.

And their letters came so seldom, telling of their homely pastimes;
Of the endless toil and trouble that weigh down the peasant heart,
That it struck me with strange new wonder, like some old forgotten chime
Wafted to us in our labor from the far-off ancient mart.

And the years passed on so quickly ’neath the tender southern sunlight,
I forgot to count how many since I saw my native land;
And the past seemed strange and dreary dim and unreal to my sight,
When I paused to watch the peasants cutting vines with skillful hand.

True, they wrote to me in longing, begging I would come and see them,
Saying they were old and weary, and would see their soldier boy,
But there always came a reason why I could not go and see them,
Could not clasp them to my bosom in the rapture of my joy.

So the years pass’d, I rose higher until a general’s rank was mine,
Then I asked to be permitted to send in my own discharge,
Pleading that my health was too feeble to serve longer in the line,
Pleading I had wounds in plenty, and now longed to be discharged.

While I waited for the answer, came a letter with sad tidings,
Telling me my poor old father had been stricken down by death.
Yes, a tree had fallen on him, and the unexpected tidings,
Coming sudden on my mother, had deprived her of her life.

Long, they told me, she lay dying, half unconscious, praying slowly,
For her son who was a soldier, for her boy who was away,
Saying, “Could I see him only, oh, my Father, just and holy;
Could he close my eyes in slumber, happy were my dying day.”

Oh, my God, she never saw me, never heard my piteous weeping;
Never saw me with my medals pass the threshold of the door;
Now her soldier boy stands sighing by the grave where she is sleeping,
Thinking of the many sorrows that so patiently she bore.

Thinking of my poor old father I had left half broken-hearted,
Of the little baby sister, now an angel up on high,
And the changes in my brothers and my sisters since we parted,
And I almost feel that gladly I would lay me down and die.

Farewell, then, my native village, and the hamlet where I was born,
Fifty years ago I left you in the hope of winning fame,
And I leave you now, forever, famous, crippled, and most forlorn,
Having spent my life’s best hours just to win a glorious name.