Fifes and Drums/Enlisted


Have you heard the shiver of bodies hurled
    Chest on crashing chest,
When thigh-bones snap like pistol shots
    And men meet breast to breast?
Have you seen the feet of a maddened horse
    Red-wet with the wine of war
And wondered in crushing a comrade's face
    What you had killed him for?

Ever the sweep of the wave of men
    On the reef of jagged death,
And frozen faces like cockle-shells
    Where the breaker billoweth,
The out-flung arms of a down-lipped boy
    With his throat shot through—
Perhaps his shoulder brushed your own
    Or he slept last night by you.

My fathers followed Washington
    Into the forests dim,
The blood of Warren at Bunker Hill
    In my veins runs from him,
When Perry crossed from ship to ship
    They bent their arms to row,
They faced the Mexicans' livid hail
    In the shattered Alamo.

The Susquehanna knew their tents,
    They perished at Bull Run,
Shenandoah saw our dead
    Staring at the sun;
We marched with Sherman to the sea,
    Starved at Andersonville,
And one of us died by the barbed-wire fence
    Under San Juan Hill.

You cannot change the written scroll
    Nor alter the charted plan,
Ever must moaning women quail
    And man make war on man;
Out of strength must sweetness come—
    Out of sacrifice
We melt the metal and forge the key
    To enter Paradise.

I thank my fathers for what they paid
    On the altar of the years,
I thank the women who gave me birth
    In agony and tears;
I could not wish that life should ask
    One payment less from me,
And the bugle-call of the arming hosts
    Sets their old passion free.

Willard Wattles.