The poems of Edmund Clarence Stedman/In War Time
IN WAR TIME
HOW OLD BROWN TOOK HARPER'S FERRY
John Brown in Kansas settled, like a steadfast Yankee farmer,
Brave and godly, with four sons, all stalwart men of might.
There he spoke aloud for freedom, and the Border-strife grew warmer,
Till the Rangers fired his dwelling, in his absence, in the night;
And Old Brown,
Came homeward in the morning—to find his house burned down.
Then he grasped his trusty rifle and boldly fought for freedom;
Smote from border unto border the fierce, invading band;
And he and his brave boys vowed—so might Heaven help and speed 'em!—
They would save those grand old prairies from the curse that blights the land;
And Old Brown,
Said, "Boys, the Lord will aid us!" and he shoved his ramrod down.
And the Lord did aid these men, and they labored day and even,
Saving Kansas from its peril; and their very lives seemed charmed,
Till the ruffians killed one son, in the blessed light of Heaven,—
In cold blood the fellows slew him, as he journeyed all unarmed;
Then Old Brown,
Shed not a tear, but shut his teeth, and frowned a terrible frown!
Then they seized another brave boy,—not amid the heat of battle,
But in peace, behind his ploughshare,—and they loaded him with chains,
And with pikes, before their horses, even as they goad their cattle,
Drove him cruelly, for their sport, and at last blew out his brains;
Then Old Brown,
Raised his right hand up to Heaven, calling Heaven's vengeance down.
And he swore a fearful oath, by the name of the Almighty,
He would hunt this ravening evil that had scathed and torn him so;
He would seize it by the vitals; he would crush it day and night; he
Would so pursue its footsteps, so return it blow for blow,
That Old Brown,
Should be a name to swear by, in backwoods or in town!
Then his beard became more grizzled, and his wild blue eye grew wilder,
And more sharply curved his hawk's-nose, snuffing battle from afar;
And he and the two boys left, though the Kansas strife waxed milder,
Grew more sullen, till was over the bloody Border War,
And Old Brown,
Had gone crazy, as they reckoned by his fearful glare and frown.
So he left the plains of Kansas and their bitter woes behind him,
Slipt off into Virginia, where the statesmen all are born,
Hired a farm by Harper's Ferry, and no one knew where to find him,
Or whether he'd turned parson, or was jacketed and shorn;
For Old Brown,
Mad as he was, knew texts enough to wear a parson's gown.
He bought no ploughs and harrows, spades and shovels, and such trifles;
But quietly to his rancho there came, by every train,
Boxes full of pikes and pistols, and his well-beloved Sharps rifles;
And eighteen other madmen joined their leader there again.
Says Old Brown,
"Boys, we've got an army large enough to march and take the town!
"Take the town, and seize the muskets, free the negroes and then arm them;
Carry the County and the State, ay, and all the potent South.
On their own heads be the slaughter, if their victims rise to harm them—
These Virginians! who believed not, nor would heed the warning mouth."
Says Old Brown,
"The world shall see a Republic, or my name is not John Brown."
'T was the sixteenth of October, on the evening of a Sunday:
"This good work," declared the captain, "shall be on a holy night!"
It was on a Sunday evening, and before the noon of Monday,
With two sons, and Captain Stephens, fifteen privates—black and white,
Marched across the bridged Potomac, and knocked the sentry down;
Took the guarded armory-building, and the muskets and the cannon;
Captured all the county majors and the colonels, one by one;
Scared to death each gallant scion of Virginia they ran on,
And before the noon of Monday, I say, the deed was done.
Mad Old Brown,
With his eighteen other crazy men, went in and took the town.
Very little noise and bluster, little smell of powder made he;
It was all done in the midnight, like the Emperor's coup d'état.
"Cut the wires! Stop the rail-cars! Hold the streets and bridges!" said he,
Then declared the new Republic, with himself for guiding star,—
This Old Brown,
And the bold two thousand citizens ran off and left the town.
Then was riding and railroading and expressing here and thither;
And the Martinsburg Sharpshooters and the Charlestown Volunteers,
And the Shepherdstown and Winchester Militia hastened whither
Old Brown was said to muster his ten thousand grenadiers.
Behind whose rampant banner all the North was pouring down.
But at last, 't is said, some prisoners escaped from Old Brown's durance,
And the effervescent valor of the Chivalry broke out,
When they learned that nineteen madmen had the marvellous assurance—
Only nineteen—thus to seize the place and drive them straight about;
And Old Brown,
Found an army come to take him, encamped around the town.
But to storm, with all the forces I have mentioned, was too risky;
So they hurried off to Richmond for the Government Marines,
Tore them from their weeping matrons, fired their souls with Bourbon whiskey,
Till they battered down Brown's castle with their ladders and machines;
And Old Brown,
Received three bayonet stabs, and a cut on his brave old crown.
Tallyho! the old Virginia gentry gather to the baying!
In they rushed and killed the game, shooting lustily away;
And whene'er they slew a rebel, those who came too late for slaying,
Not to lose a share of glory, fired their bullets in his clay;
And Old Brown,
Saw his sons fall dead beside him, and between them laid him down.
How the conquerors wore their laurels; how they hastened on the trial;
How Old Brown was placed, half dying, on the Charlestown court-house floor;
How he spoke his grand oration, in the scorn of all denial;
What the brave old madman told them,—these are known the country o'er.
"Hang Old Brown,
Said the judge, "and all such rebels!" with his most judicial frown.
But, Virginians, don't do it! for I tell you that the flagon,
Filled with blood of Old Brown's offspring, was first poured by Southern hands;
And each drop from Old Brown's life-veins, like the red gore of the dragon,
May spring up a vengeful Fury, hissing through your slave-worn lands!
And Old Brown,
May trouble you more than ever, when you've nailed his coffin down!
April 12, 1861
Came the morning of that day
When the God to whom we pray
Gave the soul of Henry Clay
To the land;
How we loved him, living, dying!
But his birthday banners flying
Saw us asking and replying
Hand to hand.
For we knew that far away,
Round the fort in Charleston Bay,
Hung the dark impending fray,
Soon to fall;
And that Sumter's brave defender
Had the summons to surrender
Seventy loyal hearts and tender,—
(Those were all!)
And we knew the April sun
Lit the length of many a gun,—
Hosts of batteries to the one
Guns and mortars grimly frowning,
Johnson, Moultrie, Pinckney, crowning,
And ten thousand men disowning
The old flag.
O, the fury of the fight
Even then was at its height!
Yet no breath, from noon till night,
Reached us here;
We had almost ceased to wonder,
And the day had faded under,
When the echo of the thunder
Filled each ear!
Then our hearts more fiercely beat,
As we crowded on the street,
Hot to gather and repeat
All the tale;
All the doubtful chances turning,
Till our souls with shame were burning,
As if twice our bitter yearning
Who had fired the earliest gun?
Was the fort by traitors won?
Was there succor? What was done
Who could know?
And once more our thoughts would wander
To the gallant, lone commander,
On his battered ramparts grander
Than the foe.
Not too long the brave shall wait:
On their own heads be their fate,
Who against the hallowed State
Flag defied and compact riven!
In the record of high Heaven
How shall Southern men be shriven
For the sin?
KEARNY AT SEVEN PINES
So that soldierly legend is still on its journey,—
That story of Kearny who knew not to yield!
'T was the day when with Jameson, fierce Berry, and Birney,
Against twenty thousand he rallied the field.
Where the red volleys poured, where the clamor rose highest,
Where the dead lay in clumps through the dwarf oak and pine,
Where the aim from the thicket was surest and nighest,—
No charge like Phil Kearny's along the whole line.
When the battle went ill, and the bravest were solemn,
Near the dark Seven Pines, where we still held our ground,
He rode down the length of the withering column,
And his heart at our war-cry leapt up with a bound;
He snuffed, like his charger, the wind of the powder,—
His sword waved us on and we answered the sign:
Loud our cheer as we rushed, but his laugh rang the louder,
"There's the devil's own fun, boys, along the whole line!"
How he strode his brown steed! How we saw his blade brighten
In the one hand still left,—and the reins in his teeth!
He laughed like a boy when the holidays heighten,
But a soldier's glance shot from his visor beneath.
Up came the reserves to the mellay infernal,
Asking where to go in,—through the clearing or pine?
"O, anywhere! Forward! 'T is all the same, Colonel:
You'll find lovely fighting along the whole line!"
O, evil the black shroud of night at Chantilly,
That hid him from sight of his brave men and tried!
Foul, foul sped the bullet that clipped the white lily,
The flower of our knighthood, the whole army's pride!
Yet we dream that he still,—in that shadowy region
Where the dead form their ranks at the wan drummer's sign,—
Rides on, as of old, down the length of his legion,
And the word still is Forward! along the whole line.
Back from the trebly crimsoned field
Terrible words are thunder-tost;
Full of the wrath that will not yield,
Full of revenge for battles lost!
Hark to their echo, as it crost
The Capital, making faces wan:
"End this murderous holocaust;
Abraham Lincoln, give us a man!
"Give us a man of God's own mould,
Born to marshal his fellow-men;
One whose fame is not bought and sold
At the stroke of a politician's pen;
Give us the man of thousands ten,
Fit to do as well as to plan;
Give us a rallying-cry, and then,
Abraham Lincoln, give us a man!
"No leader to shirk the boasting foe,
And to march and countermarch our brave,
Till they fall like ghosts in the marshes low,
And swamp-grass covers each nameless grave;
Nor another, whose fatal banners wave
Aye in Disaster's shameful van;
Nor another, to bluster, and lie, and rave;—
Abraham Lincoln, give us a man!
"Hearts are mourning in the North,
While the sister rivers seek the main,
Red with our life-blood flowing forth,—
Who shall gather it up again?
Though we march to the battle-plain
Firmly as when the strife began,
Shall all our offering be in vain?—
Abraham Lincoln, give us a man!
"Is there never one in all the land,
One on whose might the Cause may lean?
Are all the common ones so grand,
And all the titled ones so mean?
What if your failure may have been
In trying to make good bread from bran,
From worthless metal a weapon keen?—
Abraham Lincoln, find us a man!
"O, we will follow him to the death,
Where the foeman's fiercest columns are!
O, we will use our latest breath,
Cheering for every sacred star!
His to marshal us high and far;
Ours to battle, as patriots can
When a Hero leads the Holy War!—
Abraham Lincoln, give us a man!"
September 8, 1862.
TREASON'S LAST DEVICE
Sons of New England, in the fray,
Do you hear the clamor behind your back?
Do you hear the yelping of Blanche, and Tray,
Sweetheart, and all the mongrel pack?
Girded well with her ocean crags,
Little our mother heeds their noise;
Her eyes are fixed on crimsoned flags:
But you—do you hear it, Yankee boys?
Do you hear them say that the patriot fire
Burns on her altars too pure and bright,
To the darkened heavens leaping higher,
Though drenched with the blood of every fight;
That in the light of its searching flame
Treason and tyrants stand revealed,
And the yielding craven is put to shame,
On Capitol floor or foughten field?
Do you hear the hissing voice, which saith
That she—who bore through all the land
The lyre of Freedom, the torch of Faith,
And young Invention's mystic wand—
Should gather her skirts and dwell apart,
With not one of her sisters to share her fate,—
A Hagar, wandering sick at heart;
A pariah, bearing the Nation's hate?
Sons, who have peopled the distant West,
And planted the Pilgrim vine anew,
Where, by a richer soil carest,
It grows as ever its parent grew,
Say, do you hear,—while the very bells
Of your churches ring with her ancient voice,
And the song of your children sweetly tells
How true was the land of your fathers' choice,—
Do you hear the traitors who bid you speak
The word that shall sever the sacred tie?
And ye, who dwell by the golden Peak,
Has the subtle whisper glided by?
Has it crost the immemorial plains,
To coasts where the gray Pacific roars
And the Pilgrim blood in the people's veins
Is pure as the wealth of their mountain ores?
Spirits of sons who, side by side,
In a hundred battles fought and fell,
Whom now no East and West divide,
In the isles where the shades of heroes dwell;
Say, has it reached your glorious rest,
And ruffled the calm which crowns you there,—
The shame that recreants have confest,
The plot that floats in the troubled air?
Sons of New England, here and there,
Wherever men are still holding by
The honor our fathers left so fair!
Say, do you hear the cowards' cry?
Crouching among her grand old crags,
Lightly our mother heeds their noise,
With her fond eyes fixed on distant flags;
But you—do you hear it, Yankee boys?
Washington, January 19, 1863.
ALICE OF MONMOUTH
Hendrick Van Ghelt of Monmouth shore,
His fame still rings the county o'er!
The stock that he raised, the stallion he rode,
The fertile acres his farmers sowed;
The dinners he gave; the yacht which lay
At his fishing-dock in the Lower Bay;
The suits he waged, through many a year,
For a rood of land behind his pier,—
Of these the chronicles yet remain
From Navesink Heights to Freehold Plain.
The Shrewsbury people in autumn help
Their sandy toplands with marl and kelp,
And their peach and apple orchards fill
The gurgling vats of the cross-road mill.
They tell, as each twirls his tavern-can,
Wonderful tales of that stanch old man,
And they boast, of the draught they have tasted and smelt,
"'T is good as the still of Hendrick Van Ghelt!"
Were he alive, and at his prime,
In this, our boisterous modern time,
He would surely be, as he could not then,
A stalwart leader of mounted men,—
A ranger, shouting his battle-cry,
Who knew how to fight and dared to die;
And the fame which a county's limit spanned
Might have grown a legend throughout the land.
He would have scoured the Valley through,
Doing as now our bravest do;
Would have tried rough-riding on the border,
Punishing raider and marauder;
With bearded Ashby crossing swords
As he took the Shenandoah fords;
Giving bold Stuart a bloody chase
Ere he reached again his trysting-place.
Horse and horseman of the foe
The blast of his bugle-charge should know,
And his men should water their steeds, at will,
From the banks of Southern river and rill.
How many are there of us, in this
Discordant social wilderness,
Whose thriftiest scions the power gain,
Through meet conditions of sun and rain,
To yield, on the fairest blossoming shoot,
A mellow harvest of perfect fruit?
Fashioned after so rare a type,
How should his life grow full and ripe,
There, in the passionless haunts of Peace,
Through trade, and tillage, and wealth's increase?
But at his manor-house he dwelt,
And royally bore the name Van Ghelt;
Nor found a larger part to play
Than such as a county magnate may:
Ruling the hustings as he would,
Lord of the rustic neighborhood;
With potent wishes and quiet words
Holding an undisputed sway.
The broadest meadows, the fattest herds,
The fleetest roadsters, the warmest cheer,—
These were old Hendrick's many a year.
Daughters unto his hearthstone came,
And a son—to keep the ancient name.
Often, perchance, the old man's eye
From a seaward casement would espy,
Scanning the harborage in the bay,
A ship which idly at anchor lay;
Watching her as she rose and fell,
Up and down, with the evening swell,
Her cordage slackened, her sails unbent,
And all her proud life somnolent.
And perchance he thought—"My life, it seems,
Like her, unfreighted with aught but dreams;
Yet I feel within me a strength to dare
Some outward voyage, I know not where!"
But the forceful impulse wore away
In the common life of every day,
And for Hendrick Van Ghelt no timely hour
Ruffled the calm of that hidden power;
Yet in the prelude of my song
His storied presence may well belong,
As a Lombardy poplar, lithe and hoar,
Stands at a Monmouth farmer's door,
Set like a spire against the sky,
Marking the hours, while lover and maid
Linger long in its stately shade,
And round its summit the swallows fly.
Nature a devious by-way finds: solve me her secret whim,
That the seed of a gnarled oak should sprout to a sapling straight and prim;
That a russet should grow on the pippin stock, on the garden-rose a brier;
That a stalwart race, in old Hendrick's son, should smother its wonted fire.
Hermann, fond of his book, and shirking the brawny outdoor sports;
Sent to college, and choosing for life the law with her mouldy courts;
Proud, and of tender honor, as well became his father's blood,
But with cold and courtly self-restraint weighing the ill and good;
Wed to a lady whose delicate veins that molten azure held,
Ichor of equal birth, wherewith our gentry their couplings weld;
Viewing his father's careless modes with half a tolerant eye,
As one who honors, regretting not, old fashions passing by.
After a while the moment came when, unto the son and heir,
A son and heir was given in turn,—a moment of joy and prayer;
For the angel who guards the portals twain oped, in the self-same breath,
To the child the pearly gate of life, to the mother the gate of death.
Father, and son, and an infant plucking the daisies over a grave:
The swell of a boundless surge keeps on, wave following after wave;
Ever the tide of life sets toward the low invisible shore:
Whence had the current its distant source? when shall it flow no more?
Nature's serene renewals, that make the scion by one remove
Bear the ancestral blossom and thrive as the forest wilding throve!
Roseate stream of life, which hides the course its ducts pursue,
To rise, like that Sicilian fount, in far-off springs anew!
For the grandsire's vigor, rude and rare, asleep in the son had lain,
To waken in Hugh, the grandson's frame, with the ancient force again;
And ere the boy, said the Monmouth wives, had grown to his seventh year,
Well could you tell whose mantling blood swelled in his temples clear.
Tall, and bent in the meeting brows; swarthy of hair and face;
Shoulders parting square, but set with the future huntsman's grace;
Eyes alive with a fire which yet the old man's visage wore
At times, like the flash of a thunder-cloud when the storm is almost o'er.
Toward the mettled stripling, then, the heart of the old man yearned;
And thus—while Hermann Van Ghelt once more, with a restless hunger, turned
From the grave of her who died so young, to his books and lawyer's gown,
And the ceaseless clangor of mind with mind in the close and wrangling town—
They two, the boy and the grandsire, lived at the manor-house, and grew,
The one to all manly arts apace, the other a youth anew—
Pleased with the boy's free spirit, and teaching him, step by step, to wield
The mastery over living things, and the craft of flood and field.
Apt, indeed, was the scholar; and born with a subtle art to gain
The love of all dumb creatures at will; now lifting himself, by the mane,
Over the neck of the three-year colt, for a random bareback ride,
Now chasing the waves on the rifted beach at the turn of the evening tide.
Proud, in sooth, was the master: the youngster, he oft and roundly swore,
Was fit for the life of a gentleman led in the lusty days of yore!
And he took the boy wherever he drove,—to a county fair or race;
Gave him the reins and watched him guide the span at a spanking pace;
Taught him the sportsman's keen delight: to swallow the air of morn,
And start the whistling quail that hides and feeds in the dewy corn;
Or in clear November underwoods to bag the squirrels, and flush
The brown-winged, mottled partridge a-whir from her nest in the tangled brush;
Taught him the golden harvest laws, and the signs of sun and shower,
And the thousand beautiful secret ways of graft and fruit and flower;
Set him straight in his saddle, and cheered him galloping over the sand;
Sailed with him to the fishing-shoals and placed the helm in his hand.
Often the yacht, with all sail spread, was steered by the fearless twain
Around the beacon of Sandy Hook, and out in the open main;
Till the great sea-surges rolling in, as south-by-east they wore,
Lifted the bows of the dancing craft, and the buoyant hearts she bore.
But in dreamy hours, which young men know, Hugh loved with the tide to float
Far up the deep, dark-channeled creeks, alone in his two-oared boat;
While a fiery woven tapestry o'erhung the waters low,
The warp of the frosted chestnut, the woof with maple and birch aglow;
Picking the grapes which dangled down; or watching the autumn skies,
The osprey's slow imperial swoop, the scrawny heron's rise;
Nursing a longing for larger life than circled a rural home,
An instinct of leadership within, and of action yet to come.
Curtain of shifting seasons dropt on moor and meadow and hall,
Open your random vistas of changes that come with time to all!
Hugh grown up to manhood; foremost, searching the county through,
Of the Monmouth youth, in birth and grace, and the strength to will and do.
The father, past the prime of life, and his temples flecked with toil,
A bookman still, and leaving to Hugh the care of stock and soil.
Hendrick Van Ghelt, a bowed old man in a fireside-corner chair,
Counting the porcelain Scripture tiles which frame the chimney there,—
The shade of the stalwart gentleman the people used to know,
Forgetful of half the present scenes, but mindful of long-ago;
Aroused, mayhap, by growing murmurs of Southern feud, that came
And woke anew in his fading eyes a spark of their ancient flame.
Gazing on such a group as this, folds of the curtain drop,
Hiding the grandsire's form; and the wheels of the sliding picture stop.
Gone, that stout old Hendrick, at last! and from miles around they came,—
Farmer, and squire, and whispering youths, recalling his manhood's fame.
Dead: and the Van Ghelt manor closed, and the homestead acres leased;
For their owner had moved more near the town, where his daily tasks increased,
Choosing a home on the blue Passaic, whence the Newark spires and lights
Were seen, and over the salt sea-marsh the shadows of Bergen Heights.
Back and forth from his city work, the lawyer, day by day,
With the press of eager and toiling men, followed his wonted way;
And Hugh,—he dallied with life at home, tending the garden and grounds;
But the mansion longed for a woman's voice to soften its lonely sounds.
"Hugh," said Hermann Van Ghelt, at length, "choose for yourself a wife,
Comely, and good, and of birth to match the mother who gave you life.
No words of woman have charmed my ear since last I heard her voice;
And of fairest and proudest maids her son should make a worthy choice." But now the young man's wandering heart from the great world turned away,
To long for the healthful Monmouth meads, the shores of the breezy bay;
And often the scenes and mates he knew in boyhood he sought again,
And roamed through the well-known woods, and lay in the grass where he once had lain.
Ladies, in silks and laces,
Lunching with lips that gleam,
Know you aught of the places
Yielding such fruit and cream?
South from your harbor-islands
Glisten the Monmouth hills;
There are the ocean highlands,
Lowland meadows and rills,
Berries in field and garden,
Trees with their fruitage low,
Maidens (asking your pardon)
Handsome as cities show.
Know you that, night and morning,
A beautiful water-fay,
Covered with strange adorning,
Crosses your rippling bay?
Her sides are white and sparkling;
She whistles to the shore;
Behind, her hair is darkling,
And the waters part before.
Lightly the waves she measures
Up to the wharves of the town;
There, unlading her treasures,
Lovingly puts them down.
Come with me, ladies; cluster
Here on the western pier;
Look at her jewels' lustre,
Changed with the changing year!
First of the months to woo her,
June his strawberries flings
Over her garniture,
Bringing her exquisite things;
Rifling his richest casket;
Handing her, everywhere,
Garnets in crate and basket;
Knowing she soon will wear
Blackberry jet and lava,
Trinkets that August gave her,
Over her toilet spread.
After such gifts have faded,
Then the peaches are seen,—
Coral and ivory braided,
Fit for an Indian queen.
And September will send her,
Proud of his wealth, and bold,
Melons glowing in splendor,
Emeralds set with gold.
So she glides to the Narrows,
Where the forts are astir:
Her speed is a shining arrow's!
Guns are silent for her.
So she glides to the ringing
Bells of the belfried town,
Kissing the wharves, and flinging
All of her jewels down.
Whence she gathers her riches,
Ladies, now would you see?
Leaving your city niches,
Wander awhile with me.
The strawberry-vines lie in the sun,
Their myriad tendrils twined in one;
Spread like a carpet of richest dyes,
The strawberry-field in sunshine lies.
Each timorous berry, blushing red,
Has folded the leaves above her head,
The dark green curtains gemmed with dew;
But each blushful berry, peering through,
Shows like a flock of the underthread,—
The crimson woof of a downy cloth
Where the elves may kneel and plight their troth.
Run through the rustling vines, to show
Each picker an even space to go,
Leaders of twinkling cord divide
The field in lanes from side to side;
And here and there with patient care,
Lifting the leafage everywhere,
Rural maidens and mothers dot
The velvet of the strawberry-plot:
Fair and freckled, old and young,
With baskets at their girdles hung,
Searching the plants with no rude haste
Lest berries should hang unpicked, and waste:—
Of the pulpy, odorous, hidden quest,
First gift of the fruity months, and best.
Crates of the laden baskets cool
Under the trees at the meadow's edge,
Covered with grass and dripping sedge,
And lily-leaves from the shaded pool;
Filled, and ready to be borne
To market before the morrow morn.
Beside them, gazing at the skies,
Hour after hour a young man lies.
From the hillside, under the trees,
He looks across the field, and sees
The waves that ever beyond it climb,
Whitening the rye-slope's early prime;
At times he listens, listlessly,
To the tree-toad singing in the tree,
Or sees the catbird peck his fill
With feathers adroop and roguish bill.
But often, with a pleased unrest,
He lifts his glances to the west,
Watching the kirtles, red and blue,
Which cross the meadow in his view;
And he hears, anon, the busy throng
Sing the Strawberry-Pickers' Song,—
From the far hillside comes again
An echo of the old-time strain.
Sweetly the group their cadence keep;
Swiftly their hands the trailers sweep;
The vines are stripped and the song is sung,
A joyous labor for old and young;
For the blithe children, gleaning behind
The women, marvellous treasures find.
From the workers a maiden parts:
The baskets at her waistband shine
With berries that look like bleeding hearts
Of a hundred lovers at her shrine;
No Eastern girl were girdled so well
With silken belt and silver bell.
Her slender form is tall and strong;
Her voice is the sweetest in the song;
Her brown hair, fit to wear a crown,
Loose from its bonnet ripples down.
Toward the crates, that lie in the shade
Of the chestnut copse at the edge of the glade,
She moves from her mates, through happy rows
Of the children loving her as she goes.
Alice, our Alice! one and all,
Striving to stay her footsteps, call
(For children with skilful choice dispense
The largesse of their innocence);
But on, with a sister's smile, she moves
Into the darkness of the groves,
And deftly, daintily, one by one,
Shelters her baskets from the sun,
Under the network, fresh and cool,
Of lily-leaves from the crystal pool.
Turning her violet eyes, their rays
Glistened full in the young man's gaze;
And each at each, for a moment's space,
Looked with a diffident surprise.
"Heaven!" thought Hugh, "what artless grace
That laborer's daughter glorifies!
I never saw a fairer face,
I never heard a sweeter voice;
And oh! were she my father's choice,
My father's choice and mine were one
In the strawberry-field and morning sun."
Love, from that summer morn,
Melting the souls of these two;
Love, which some of you know
Who read this poem to-day—
Is it the same desire,
The strong, ineffable joy,
Which Jacob and Rachel felt,
When he served her father long years,
And the years were swift as days—
So great was the love he bore?
Race, advancing with time,
Growing in thought and deed,
Mastering land and sea,
Say, does the heart advance,
Are its passions more pure and strong?
They, like Nature, remain,
No more and no less than of yore.
Whoso conquers the earth,
Winning its riches and fame,
Comes to the evening at last,
The sunset of threescore years,
Confessing that Love was real,
All the rest was a dream!
The sum of his gains is dross;
The song in his praise is mute;
The wreath of his laurels fades:
But the kiss of his early love
Still burns on his trembling lip,
The spirit of one he loved
Hallows his dreams at night.
A little while, and the scenes
Of the play of Life are closed;
Come, let us rest an hour,
And by the pleasant streams,
Under the fresh, green trees,
Let us walk hand and hand,
And think of the days that were.
On river and height and salty moors the haze of autumn fell,
And the cloud of a troubled joy enwrapt the face of Hugh as well,—
The spell of a secret haunt that far from home his footsteps drew;
A love which over the brow of youth the mask of manhood threw.
Birds of the air to the father, at length, the common rumor brought:
"Your son," they sang, "in the cunning toils of a rustic lass is caught!"
"A fit betrothal," the lawyer said, "must make these follies cease;
Which shall it be?—the banker's ward?—Edith, the judge's niece?"
"Father, I pray"—said Hugh. "O yes!" out-leapt the other's mood,
"I hear of your wanton loiterings; they ill become your blood!
If you hold our name at such light worth, forbear to darken the life
Of this Alice Dale"—"No, Alice Van Ghelt! father, she is my wife."
Worldlings, who say the eagle should mate with eagle, after his kind,
Nor have learned from what far and diverse cliffs the twain each other find,
Yours is the old, old story, of age forgetting its wiser youth;
Of eyes which are keen for others' good and blind to an inward truth.
But the pride which closed the father's doors swelled in the young man's veins,
And he led his bride, in the sight of all, through the pleasant Monmouth lanes,
To the little farm his grandsire gave, years since, for a birthday gift:
Unto such havens unforeseen the barks of our fortune drift!
There, for a happy pastoral year, he tilled the teeming field,
Scattered the marl above his land, and gathered the orchard's yield;
And Alice, in fair and simple guise, kissed him at evenfall;
And her face was to him an angel's face, and love was all in all.
—What is this light in the southern sky, painting a red alarm?
What is this trumpet call, which sounds through peaceful village and farm,—
Jarring the sweet idyllic rest, stilling the children's throng,
Hushing the cricket on the hearth, and the lovers' evening song?
War! war! war!
Manning of forts on land and ships for sea;
Innumerous lips that speak the righteous wrath
Of days which have been and again may be;
Flashing of tender eyes disdaining tears;
A pause of men with indrawn breath,
Knowing it awful for the people's will
Thus, thus to end the mellow years
Of harvest, growth, prosperity,
And bring the years of famine, fire, and death,
Though fear and a nation's shame are more awful still.
War! war! war!
A thundercloud in the South in the early Spring;—
The launch of a thunderbolt; and then,
With one red flare, the lightning stretched its wing,
And a rolling echo roused a million men!
Then the ploughman left his field;
The smith, at his clanging forge,
Forged him a sword to wield.
From meadow, and mountain-gorge,
And the Western plains, they came,
Fronting the storm and flame.
War! war! war!
Heaven aid the right!
God nerve the hero's arm in the fearful fight!
God send the women sleep, in the long, long night,
When the breasts on whose strength they leaned shall heave no more!
Spake each mother to her son,
Ere an ancient field was won:
"Spartan, who me your mother call,
Our country is mother of us all;
In her you breathe, and move, and are.
In peace, for her to live—in war.
For her to die—is, gloriously,
A patriot to live and die!"
The times are now as grand as then
With dauntless women, earnest men;
For thus the mothers whom we know
Bade their sons to battle go;
And, with a smile, the loyal North
Sent her million freemen forth.
"What men should stronger-hearted be
Than we, who dwell by the open sea,
Tilling the lands our fathers won
In battle on the Monmouth Plains?
Ah! a memory remains,
Telling us what they have done,
Teaching us what we should do.
Let us send our rightful share,—
Hard-handed yeomen, horsemen rare,
A hundred riders fleet and true."
A hundred horsemen, led by Hugh:
"Were he still here," their captain thought,
"The brave old man who trained my youth,
What a leader he would make
Where the battle's topmost billows break!
The crimes which brought our land to ruth,
How in his soul they would have wrought!
God help me, no deed of mine shall shame
The honor of my grandsire's name;
And my father shall see how pure and good
Runs in these veins the olden blood."
Shore and inland their men have sent:
Away, to the mountain regiment,
The silver-hazed Potomac heights,
The circling raids, the hundred fights,
The booth, the bivouac, the tent.
Away, from the happy Monmouth farms,
To noontide marches, night alarms,
Death in the shadowy oaken glades,
Emptied saddles, broken blades,—
All the turmoil that soldiers know
Who gallop to meet a mortal foe,
Some to conquer, some to fall:
War hath its chances for one and all.
Heroes, who render up their lives
On the country's fiery altar-stone—
They do not offer themselves alone.
What shall become of the soldiers' wives?
They stay behind in the lonely cots,
Weeding the humble garden-plots;
Some to speed the needle and thread,
For the soldiers' children must be fed;
All to sigh, through the toilsome day,
And at night teach lisping lips to pray
For the fathers marching far away.
Cloud and flame on the dark frontier,
Veiling the hosts embattled there:
Peace, and a boding stillness, here,
Where the wives at home repeat their prayer.
The weary August days are long;
The locusts sing a plaintive song,
The cattle miss their master's call
When they see the sunset shadows fall.
The youthful mistress, at even-tide,
Stands by the cedarn wicket's side,
With both hands pushing from the front
Her hair, as those who listen are wont;
Gazing toward the unknown South,
While silent whispers part her mouth:
"O, if a woman could only find
Other work than to wait behind,
Through midnight dew and noonday drouth,—
To wait behind, and fear, and pray!
O, if a soldier's wife could say,—
'Where thou goest, I will go;
Kiss thee ere thou meet'st the foe;
Where thou lodgest, worst or best,
Share and soothe thy broken rest!'
—Alas, to stifle her pain, and wait,
This was ever a woman's fate!
But the lonely hours at least may be
Passed a little nearer thee,
And the city thou guardest with thy life
Thou 'lt guard more fondly for holding thy wife."
Ah, tender heart of woman leal,
Supple as wax and strong as steel!
Thousands as faithful and as lone,
Following each some dearest one,
Found in those early months a home
Under the brightness of that dome
Whose argent arches for aye enfold
The hopes of a people in their hold,—
Irradiate, in the sight of all
Who guard the Capital's outer wall.
Lastly came one, amid the rest,
Whose form a sunburnt soldier prest,
As lovers embrace in respite lent
From unfulfilled imprisonment.
And Alice found a new content:
Dearer for perils that had been
Were short-lived meetings, far between;
Better, for dangers yet to be,
The moments she still his face could see.
These, for the pure and loving wife,
Were the silver bars that marked her life,
That numbered the days melodiously;
While, through all noble daring, Hugh
From a Captain to a Colonel grew,
And his praises sweetened every tongue
That reached her ear,—for old and young
Gave him the gallant leader's due.
Flight of a meteor through the sky,
Scattering firebrands, arrows, and death,—
A baleful year, that hurtled by
While ancient kingdoms held their breath.
The Capital grew aghast with sights
Flashed from the lurid river-heights,
Full of the fearful things sent down,
By demons haunting the middle air,
Into the hot, beleaguered town,—
All woful sights and sounds, which seem
The fantasy of a sickly dream:
Crowded wickedness everywhere;
Everywhere a stifled sense
Of the noonday-striding pestilence;
Every church, from wall to wall,
A closely-mattressed hospital;
And ah! our bleeding heroes, brought
From smouldering fields so vainly fought,
Filling each place where a man could lie
To gasp a dying wish—and die;
While the sombre sky, relentlessly,
Covered the town with a funeral-pall,
A death-damp, trickling funeral-pall.
Always the dust and mire; the sound
Of the rumbling wagon's ceaseless round,
The cannon jarring the trampled ground.
The sad, unvarying picture wrought
Upon the pitying woman's heart
Of Alice, the Colonel's wife, and taught
Her spirit to choose the better part,—
The labor of loving angels, sent
To men in their sore encompassment.
Daily her gentle steps were bent
Through the thin pathways which divide
The patient sufferers, side from side,
In dolorous wards, where Death and Life
Wage their silent, endless strife;
And she gave to all her soothing words,
Sweet as the songs of homestead birds.
Sometimes that utterance musical
On the soldier's failing sense would fall,
Seeming, almost, a prelude given
Of whispers that calm the air of Heaven;
While her white hand, moistening his poor lips
With the draught which slakeless fever sips,
Pointed him to that fount above,—
River of water of life and love,—
Stream without price, of whose purity
Whoever thirsteth may freely buy.
How many—whom in their mortal pain
She tended—'t was given her to gain,
Through Him who died upon the rood,
For that divine beatitude,
Who of us all can ever know
Till the golden books their records show?
But she saw their dying faces light,
And felt a rapture in the sight.
And many a sufferer's earthly life
Thanked for new strength the Colonel's wife;
Many a soldier turned his head,
Watching her pass his narrow bed,
Or, haply, his feeble frame would raise,
As the dim lamp her form revealed;
And, like the children in the field,
(For soldiers like little ones become,—
As simple in heart, as frolicsome,)
One and another breathed her name,
Blessing her as she went and came.
So, through all actions pure and good,
Unknowing evil, shame, or fear,
She grew to perfect ladyhood,—
Unwittingly the mate and peer
Of the proudest of her husband's blood.
Like an affluent, royal town, the summer camps
Of a hundred thousand men are stretched away.
At night, like multitudinous city lamps,
Their numberless watch-fires beacon, clear and still,
And a glory beams from the zenith lit
With lurid vapors that over its star-lights flit;
But wreaths of opaline cloud o'erhang, by day,
The crystal-pointed tents, from hill to hill,
From vale to vale—until
The heavens on endless peaks their curtain lay.
A magical city! spread to-night
On hills which slope within our sight:
To-morrow, as at the waving of a wand,
Tents, guidons, bannerols are moved afar,—
Rising elsewhere, as rises a morning-star,
Or the dream of Aladdin's palace in fairy-land.
Camp after camp, like marble square on square;
Street following street, with many a park between;
Bright bayonet-sparkles in the tremulous air;
Far-fading, purple smoke above their sheen;
Green central fields with flags like flowers abloom;
And, all about, close-ordered, populous life:
But here no festering trade, no civic strife,
Only the blue-clad soldiers everywhere,
Waiting to-morrow's victory or doom,—
Men of the hour, to whom these pictures seem,
Like school-boy thoughts, half real, half a dream.
Camps of the cavalry, apart,
Are pitched with nicest art
On hilly suburbs where old forests grow.
Here, by itself, one glimmers through the pines,—
One whose high-hearted chief we know:
A thousand men leap when his bugles blow;
A thousand horses curvet at his lines,
Pawing the turf; among them come and go
The jacketed troopers, changed by wind and rain,
Storm, raid, and skirmish, sunshine, midnight dew,
To bronzèd men who never ride in vain.
In the great wall-tent at the head of the square,
The Colonel hangs his sword, and there
Huge logs burn high in front at the close of the day;
And the captains gather ere the long tattoo,
While the banded buglers play;
Then come the tales of home and the troopers' song.
Clear over the distant outposts float the notes,
And the lone vidette to catch them listens long;
And the officer of the guard, upon his round,
Pauses, to hear the sound
Of the chiming chorus poured from a score of throats:
Our good steeds snuff the evening air,
Our pulses with their purpose tingle;
The foeman's fires are twinkling there;
He leaps to hear our sabres jingle!
Each carbine sends its whizzing ball:
Now, cling! clang! forward all,
Into the fight!
Dash on beneath the smoking dome,
Through level lightnings gallop nearer!
One look to Heaven! No thoughts of home:
The guidons that we bear are dearer.
Cling! clang! forward all!
Heaven help those whose horses fall!
Cut left and right!
They flee before our fierce attack!
They fall, they spread in broken surges!
Now, comrades, bear our wounded back,
And leave the foeman to his dirges.
The bugles sound the swift recall:
Cling! clang! backward all!
Home, and good night!
When April rains and the great spring-tide
Cover the lowlands far and wide,
And eastern winds blow somewhat harsh
Over the salt and mildewed marsh,
Then the grasses take deeper root,
Sucking, athirst and resolute;
And when the waters eddy away,
Flowing in trenches to Newark Bay,
The fibrous blades grow rank and tall,
And from their tops the reed-birds call.
Five miles in width the moor is spread;
Two broad rivers its borders thread;
The schooners which up their channels pass
Seem to be sailing in the grass,
Save as they rise with the moon-drawn sea,
Twice in the day, continuously.
Gray with an inward struggle grown,
The brooding lawyer, Hermann Van Ghelt,
Lived at the mansion-house, alone;
But a chilling cloud at his bosom felt,
Like the fog which crept, at morn and night,
Across the rivers in his sight,
And rising, left the moorland plain
Bare and spectral and cold again.
He saw the one tall hill, which stood
Huge with its quarry and gloaming wood,
And the creeping engines, as they hist
Through the dim reaches of the mist,—
Serpents, with ominous eyes aglow,
Thridding the grasses to and fro;
And he thought how each dark, receding train
Carried its freight of joy and pain,
On toil's adventure and fortune's quest,
To the troubled city of unrest;
And he knew that under the desolate pall
Of the bleak horizon, skirting all,
The burdened ocean heaved, and rolled
Its moaning surges manifold.
Often at evening, gazing through
The eastward windows on such a view,
Its sense enwrapt him as with a shroud;
Often at noon, in the city's crowd,
He saw, as 't were in a mystic glass,
Unbidden faces before him pass:
A soldier, with eyes unawed and mild
As the eyes of one who was his child;
A woman's visage, like that which blest
A year of his better years the best;
And the plea of a voice, remembered well,
Deep in his secret hearing fell.
And as week by week its records brought
Of heroes fallen as they fought,
There little by little awakenèd
In the lawyer's heart a shapeless dread,
A fear of the tidings which of all
On ear and spirit heaviest fall,—
Changeless sentence of mortal fate,
Freezing the marrow with—Too Late!
Thus,—when ended the morning tramp,
And the regiment came back to camp,
And the Colonel, breathing hard with pain,
Was carried within the lines again,—
Thus a Color-Sergeant told
The story of that skirmish bold:
"'T was an hour past midnight, twelve hours ago,—
We were all asleep, you know,
Save the officer on his rounds,
And the guard-relief,—when sounds
The signal-gun! once—twice—
Thrice! and then, in a trice,
The long assembly-call rang sharp and clear,
Till 'Boots and Saddles' made us scamper like mice.
No time to waste
In asking whether a fight was near;
Over the horses went their traps in haste;
Not ten minutes had past
Ere we stood in marching gear,
And the call of the roll was followed by orders fast:
'Prepare to mount!'
'Mount!'—and the company ranks were made;
Then in each rank, by fours, we took the count,
And the head of the column wheeled for the long parade.
"There, on the beaten ground,
The regiment formed from right to left;
Our Colonel, straight in his saddle, looked around,
Reining the stallion in, that felt the heft
Of his rider, and stamped his foot, and wanted to dance.
At last the order came:
'By twos: forward, march!'—and the same
From each officer in advance;
And, as the rear-guard left the spot,
We broke into the even trot.
"'Trot, march!'—two by two,
In the dust and in the dew,
Roads and open meadows through.
Steadily we kept the tune
Underneath the stars and moon.
None, except the Colonel, knew
What our orders were to do;
Whether on a forage-raid
We were tramping, boot and blade,
Or a close reconnoissance
Ere the army should advance;
One thing certain, we were bound
Straight for Stuart's camping-ground.
Plunging into forest-shade,
Well we knew each glen and glade!
Sweet they smelled, the pine and oak,
And of home my comrade spoke.
Tramp, tramp, out again,
Sheer across the ragged plain,
Where the moonbeams glaze our steel
And the fresher air we feel.
Thus a triple league, and more,
Till behind us spreads the gray,
Pallid light of breaking day,
And on cloudy hills, before,
Rebel camp-fires smoke away.
Hard by yonder clump of pines,
We should touch the rebel lines:
'Walk, march!' and, softly now,
Gain yon hillock's westward brow.
"'Halt!' and 'Right into line!'—There on the ridge
In battle-order, we let the horses breathe;
The Colonel raised his glass and scanned the bridge,
The tents on the bank beyond, the stream beneath.
Just then the sun first broke from the redder east,
And their pickets saw five hundred of us, at least,
Stretched like a dark stockade against the sky;
We heard their long-roll clamor loud and nigh:
In half a minute a rumbling battery whirled
To a mound in front, unlimbering with a will,
And a twelve-pound solid shot came right along,
Singing a devilish morning-song,
And touched my comrade's leg, and the poor boy curled
And dropt to the turf, holding his bridle still.
Well, we moved out of range,—were wheeling round,
I think, for the Colonel had taken his look at their ground,
(Thus he was ordered, it seems, and nothing more:
Hardly worth coming at midnight for!)
When, over the bridge, a troop of the enemy's horse
Dashed out upon our course,
Giving us hope of a tussle to warm our blood.
Then we cheered, to a man, that our early call
Had n't been sounded for nothing, after all;
And halting, to wait their movements, the column stood.
"Then into squadrons we saw their ranks enlarge,
And slow and steady they moved to the charge,
Shaking the ground as they came in carbine-range.
'Front into line! March! Halt! Front!'
Our Colonel cried; and in squadrons, to meet the brunt,
We too from the walk to the trot our paces change:
'Gallop, march!'—and, hot for the fray,
Pistols and sabres drawn, we canter away.
"Twenty rods over the slippery clover
We galloped as gayly as lady and lover;
Held the reins lightly, our good weapons tightly,
Five solid squadrons all shining and sightly;
Not too fast, half the strength of our brave steeds to wasten,
Not too slow, for the warmth of their fire made us hasten,
As it came with a rattle and opened the battle,
Tumbling from saddles ten fellows of mettle.
So the distance grew shorter, their sabres shone broader;
Then the bugle's wild blare and the Colonel's loud order,—
"Charge!" and we sprang, while the far echo rang,
And their bullets, like bees, in our ears fiercely sang.
Forward we strode to pay what we owed,
Right at the head of their column we rode;
Together we dashed, and the air reeled and flashed;
Stirrups, sabres, and scabbards all shattered and crashed
As we cut in and out, right and left, all about,
Hand to hand, blow for blow, shot for shot, shout for shout,
Till the earth seemed to boil with the heat of our toil.
But in less than five minutes we felt them recoil,
Heard their shrill rally sound, and, like hares from the hound,
Each ran for himself: one and all fled the ground!
Then we goaded them up to their guns, where they cowered,
And the breeze cleared the field where the battle-cloud lowered.
Threescore of them lay, to teach them the way
Van Ghelt and his rangers their compliments pay.
But a plenty, I swear, of our saddles were bare;
Friend and foe, horse and rider, lay sprawled everywhere:
'T was hard hitting, you see, Sir, that gained us the day!
"Yes, they too had their say before they fled,
And the loss of our Colonel is worse than all the rest.
One of their captains aimed at him, as he led
The foremost charge—I shot the rascal dead,
But the Colonel fell, with a bullet through his breast.
We lifted him from the mire, when the field was won,
And their captured colors shaded him from the sun
In the farmer's wagon we took for his homeward ride;
But he never said a word, nor opened his eyes,
Till we reached the camp. In yon hospital tent he lies,
And his poor young wife will come to watch by his side.
The surgeon has n't found the bullet, as yet,
But he says it 's a mortal wound. Where will you get
Another such man to lead us, if he dies?"
Sprung was the bow at last;
And the barbed and pointed dart,
Keen with stings of the past,
Barbed with a vain remorse,
Clove for itself a course
Straight to the father's heart;
And a lonely wanderer stood,
Mazed in a mist of thought,
On the edge of a field of blood.
—For a battle had been fought,
And the cavalry skirmish was but a wild prelude
To the broader carnage that heaped a field in vain:
A terrible battle had been fought,
Till its changeful current brought
Tumultuous, angry surges roaring back
To the lines where our army had lain.
The lawyer, driven hard by an inward pain,
Was crossing, in search of a dying son, the track
Where the deluge rose and fell, and its stranded wrack
Had sown the loathing earth with human slain.
Friends and foes,—who could discover which,
As they marked the zigzag, outer ditch,
Or lay so cold and still in the bush,
Fallen and trampled down in the last wild rush?
Then the shattered forest-trees; the clearing there
Where a battery stood; dead horses, pawing the air
With horrible upright hoofs; a mangled mass
Of wounded and stifled men in the low morass;
And the long trench dug in haste for a burial-pit,
Whose yawning length and breadth all comers fit.
And over the dreadful precinct, like the lights
That flit through graveyard walks in dismal nights,
Men with lanterns were groping among the dead,
Holding the flame to every hueless face,
And bearing those whose life had not wholly fled
On stretchers, that looked like biers, from the ghastly place.
The air above seemed heavy with errant souls,
Dense with ghosts from those gory forms arisen,—
Each rudely driven from its prison,
'Mid the harsh jar of rattling musket-rolls,
And quivering throes, and unexpected force;
In helpless waves adrift confusedly,
Freighting the sombre haze without resource.
Through all there trickled, from the pitying sky,
An infinite mist of tears upon the ground,
Muffling the groans of anguish with its sound.
On the borders of such a land, on the bounds of Death,
The stranger, shuddering, moved as one who saith:
"God! what a doleful clime, a drear domain!"
And onward, struggling with his pain,
Traversed the endless camp-fires, spark by spark,
Past sentinels that challenged from the dark,
Guided through camp and camp to one long tent
Whose ridge a flying bolt from the field had rent
Letting the midnight mist, the battle din,
Fall on the hundred forms that writhed within.
Beyond the gaunt Zouave at the nearest cot,
And the bugler shot in the arm, who lay beside
(Looking down at the wounded spot
Even then, for all the pain, with boyish pride),
And a score of men, with blankets opened wide,
Showing the gory bandages which bound
The paths of many a deadly wound,
—Over all these the stranger's glances sped
To one low stretcher, at whose head
A woman, bowed and brooding, sate,
As sit the angels of our fate,
Who, motionless, our births and deaths await.
He whom she tended moaned and tost,
Restless, as some laborious vessel, lost
Close to the port for which we saw it sail,
Groans in the long perpetual gale;
But she, that watched the storm, forbore to weep.
Sometimes the stranger saw her move
To others, who also with their anguish strove;
But ever again her constant footsteps turned
To one who made sad mutterings in his sleep;
Ever she listened to his breathings deep,
Or trimmed the midnight lamp that feebly burned.
Leaning her face on her hand,
She sat by the side of Hugh,
Silently watching him breathe,
As a lily curves its grace
Over the broken form
Of the twin which stood by its side.
A glory upon her head
Trailed from the light above,
Gilding her tranquil hair.
There, as she sat in a trance,
Her soul flowed through the past,
As a river, day and night,
Passes through changeful shores,—
Sees on the twofold bank,
Meadow and mossy grange,
Castles on hoary crags,
Forests, and fortressed towns,
And shrinks from the widening bay,
And the darkness which overhangs
The unknown, limitless sea.
Was it a troubled dream,
All that the stream of her life
Had mirrored along its course?
All—from that summer morn
When she seemed to meet in the field
One whom she vowed to love,
And with whom she wandered thence,
Leaving the home of her youth?
Were they visions indeed,—
The pillars of smoke and flame,
The sound of a hundred fights,
The grandeur, and ah! the gloom,
The shadows which circled her now,
And the wraith of the one she loved
Gliding away from her grasp,
Vanishing swiftly and sure?
Yes, it was all a dream;
And the strange, sad man, who moved
To the other side of the couch,
Bending over it long,
Pressing his hand on his heart,
And gazing, anon, in her eyes,—
He, with his scanty hair,
And pallid, repentant face,
He, too, was a voiceless dream,
A vision like all the rest;
He with the rest would fade
When the day should dawn again,
When the spectral mist of night,
Fused with the golden morn,
Should melt in the eastern sky.
"Steady! forward the squadron!" cries
The dying soldier, and strives amain
To rise from the pillow and his pain.
Wild and wandering are his eyes,
Painting once more, on the empty air,
The wrathful battle's wavering glare.
"Hugh!" said Alice, and checked her fear,
"Speak to me, Hugh; your father is here."
"Father! what of my father? he
Is anything but a father to me;
What need I of a father, when
I have the hearts of a thousand men?"
"—Alas, Sir, he knows not me nor you!"
And with caressing words, the twain—
The man with all remorsefulness,
The woman with loving tenderness—
Soothed the soldier to rest anew,
And, as the madness left his brain,
Silently watched his sleep again.
And again the father and the wife,
Counting the precious sands of life,
Looked each askance, with those subtle eyes,
That probe through human mysteries
And hidden motives fathom well;
But the mild regard of Alice fell,
Meeting the other's contrite glance,
On his meek and furrowed countenance,
Scathed, as it seemed, with troubled thought:
"Surely, good angels have with him wrought,"
She murmured, and halted, even across
The sorrowful threshold of her loss,
To pity his thin and changing hair,
And her heart forgave him, unaware.
And he,—who saw how she still represt
A drear foreboding within her breast,
And, by her wifehood's nearest right,
Ever more closely through the night
Clave unto him whose quickened breath
Came like a waft from the realm of Death,—
He felt what a secret, powerful tie
Bound them in one, mysteriously.
He studied her features, as she stood
Lighting the shades of that woful place
With the presence of her womanhood,
And thought—as the dying son had thought
When her beauty first his vision caught—
"I never saw a fairer face;
I never heard a sweeter voice!"
And a sad remembrance travelled fast
Through all the labyrinth of the past,
Till he said, as the scales fell off at last,
"How could I blame him for his choice?"
Then he looked upon the sword, which lay
At the headboard, under the night-lamp's ray;
He saw the coat, the stains, the dust,
The gilded eagles worn with rust,
The swarthy forehead and matted hair
Of the strong, brave hero lying there;
And he felt how gently Hugh held command,—
The life how gallant, the death how grand;
And with trembling lips, and the words that choke,
And the tears which burn the cheek, he spoke:
"Where is the father who would not joy
In the manhood of such a noble boy?
This life, which had being through my own,
Was a better life than I have known;
O that its fairness should be earth,
Ere I could prize it at its worth!"
"Too late! too late!"—he made his moan—
"I find a daughter, and her alone.
He deemed you worthy to bear his name,
His spotless honor, his lasting fame:
I, who have wronged you, bid you live
To comfort the lonely—and forgive."
Dim and silvery from the east
The infant light of another morn
Over the stirring camps was borne;
But the soldiers pulse had almost ceased,
And there crept upon his brow the change—
Ah, how sudden! alas, how strange!
Yet again his eyelids opened wide,
And his glances moved to either side,
This time with a clear intelligence
Which took all objects in its sense,
A power to comprehend the whole
Of the scene that girded his passing soul.
The father, who saw it, slowly drew
Nearer to her that wept anew,
And gathered her tenderly in his hold,—
As mortals their precious things enfold,
Grasping them late and sure; and Hugh
Gazed on the two a space, and smiled
With the look he wore when a little child,—
A smile of pride and peace, that meant
A free forgiveness, a full content;
Then his clouding sight an instant clung
To the flag whose stars above him hung,
And his blunted senses seemed to hear
The long reveillée sounding near;
But the ringing clarion could not vie
With the richer notes which filled his ear,
Nor the breaking morn with that brighter sky.
Wear no armor, timid heart;
Fear no keen misfortune's dart,
Want, nor scorn, nor secret blow
Dealt thee by thy mortal foe.
Let the Fates their weapons wield,
For a wondrous woven shield
Shall be given thee, erelong.
Mesh of gold were not so strong;
Not so soft were silken shred;
Not so fine the spider's thread
Barring the enchanted door
In that tale of ancient lore,
Guarding, silently and well,
All within the mystic cell.
Such a shield, where'er thou art,
Shall be thine, O wounded heart!
From the ills that compass thee
Thou behind it shalt be free;
Envy, slander, malice, all
Shall withdraw them from thy—Pall.
Build no house with patient care,
Fair to view, and strong as fair;
Walled with noble deeds' renown;
Shining over field and town,
Seen from land and sea afar,
Proud in peace, secure in war.
For the moments never sleep,
Building thee a castle-keep,—
Proof alike 'gainst heat and cold,
Earthly sorrows manifold,
Sickness, failure of thine ends,
And the falling off of friends.
Treason, want, dishonor, wrong,
None of these shall harm thee long.
Every day a beam is made;
Hour by hour a stone is laid.
Back the cruellest shall fall
From the warder at the wall;
Foemen shall not dare to tread
On the ramparts o'er thy head;
Dark, triumphant flags shall wave
From the fastness of thy—Grave.
There 's an hour, at the fall of night, when the blissful souls
Of those who were dear in life seem close at hand;
There 's a holy midnight hour, when we speak their names
In pauses between our songs on the trellised porch;
And we sing the hymns which they loved, and almost know
Their phantoms are somewhere with us, filling the gaps,
The sorrowful chasms left when they passed away;
And we seem, in the hush of our yearning voices, to hear
Their warm, familiar breathing somewhere near.
At such an hour,—when again the autumn haze
Silvered the moors, and the new moon peered from the west
Over the blue Passaic, and the mansion shone
Clear and white on the ridge which skirts the stream,—
At the twilight hour a man and a woman sat
On the open porch, in the garb of those who mourn.
Father and daughter they seemed; and with thoughtful eyes,
Silent, and full of the past, they watched the skies.
Silent they were, not sad; for the sod that covers the grave
Of those we have given to fame smells not of the hateful mould,
But of roses and fragrant ferns, while marvellous immortelles
Twine in glory above, and their graces give us joy.
Silent, but oh! not sad: for the babe on the couch within
Drank at the mother's breast, till the current of life, outdrawn,
Opened inflowing currents of faith and sweet content;
And the gray-haired man, repenting in tears the foolish past,
Had seen in the light from those inscrutable infant eyes,
Fresh from the unknown world, the glimpses which, long ago,
Gladdened his golden youth, and had found his soul at peace.
Lastly the moon went down; like burnished steel
The infinite ether wrapt the crispy air.
Then, arm in arm on the terrace-walk, the pair
Moved in that still communion where we feel
No need of audible questions and replies,
But mutual pulses all our thoughts reveal;
And, as they turned to leave the outer night,
Far in the cloudless North a radiant sight
Stayed their steps for a while and held their eyes.
There, through the icy mail of the boreal heaven,
Two-edged and burning swords by unseen hands
Were thrust, till a climbing throng its path had riven
Straight from the Pole, and, over seas and lands,
Pushed for the zenith, while from East to West
Flamed many a towering helm and gorgeous crest;
And then, a rarer pageant than the rest,
An angrier light glared from the southern sky,
As if the austral trumpets made reply,
And the wrath of a challenged realm had swiftly tost
On the empyrean the flags of another host,—
Pennons with or and scarlet blazing high,
Crimson and orange banners proudly crost;
While through the environed space, that lay between
Their adverse fronts, the ether seemed to tremble,
Shuddering to view such ruthless foes assemble,
And one by one the stars withdrew their sheen.
The two, enrapt with such a vision, saw
Its ominous surges, dense, prismatic, vast,
Heaved from the round horizon; and in awe,
Musing awhile, were silent. Till at last
The younger, fair in widow's garments, spoke:
"See, father, how, from either pole,
The deep, innumerous columns roll;
As if the angelic tribes their concord broke,
And the fierce war that scathes our land had spread
Above, and the very skies with ire were red!"
Even as she spoke, there shone
High in the topmost zenith a central spark,
A luminous cloud that glowed against the dark;
Its halo, widening toward either zone,
Took on the semblance of a mystic hand
Stretched from an unknown height; and lo! a band
Of scintillant jewels twined around the wrist,
Sapphire and ruby, opal, amethyst,
Turquoise, and diamond, linked with flashing joints.
Its wide and puissant reach began to clasp,
In countless folds, the interclashing points
Of outshot light, gathering their angry hues—
North, south, east, west—with noiseless grasp,
By some divine, resistless law,
Till everywhere the wondering watchers saw
A thousand colors blend and interfuse,
In aureate wave on wave ascending higher,—
Immeasurable, white, a spotless fire;
And, glory circling glory there, behold
Gleams of the heavenly city walled with gold!
"Daughter," the man replied, (his face was bright
With the effulgent reflex of that light,)
"The time shall come, by merciful Heaven willed,
When these celestial omens shall be fulfilled,
Our strife be closed and the nation purged of sin,
And a pure and holier union shall begin;
And a jarring race be drawn, throughout the land,
Into new brotherhood by some strong hand;
And the baneful glow and splendor of war shall fade
In the whiter light of love, that, from sea to sea,
Shall soften the rage of hosts in arms arrayed,
And melt into share and shaft each battle-blade,
And brighten the hopes of a people great and free.
But, in the story told of a nation's woes,
Of the sacrifices made for a century's fault,
The fames of fallen heroes shall ever shine,
Serene, and high, and crystalline as those
Fair stars, which reappear in yonder vault;
In the country's heart their written names shall be,
Like that of a single one in mine and thine.
Assassinated Good Friday, 1865
"Forgive them, for they know not what they do!"
He said, and so went shriven to his fate,—
Unknowing went, that generous heart and true.
Even while he spoke the slayer lay in wait,
And when the morning opened Heaven's gate
There passed the whitest soul a nation knew.
Henceforth all thoughts of pardon are too late;
They, in whose cause that arm its weapon drew,
Have murdered Mercy. Now alone shall stand
Blind Justice, with the sword unsheathed she wore.
Hark, from the eastern to the western strand,
The swelling thunder of the people's roar:
What words they murmur,—Fetter not her hand!
So let it smite, such deeds shall be no more!
Wave, wave your glorious battle-flags, brave soldiers of the North,
And from the field your arms have won to-day go proudly forth!
For now, O comrades dear and leal,—from whom no ills could part,
Through the long years of hopes and fears, the nation's constant heart,—
Men who have driven so oft the foe, so oft have striven in vain,
Yet ever in the perilous hour have crossed his path again,—
At last we have our hearts' desire, from them we met have wrung
A victory that round the world shall long be told and sung!
It was the memory of the past that bore us through the fray,
That gave the grand old Army strength to conquer on this day!
O now forget how dark and red Virginia's rivers flow,
The Rappahannock's tangled wilds, the glory and the woe;
The fever-hung encampments, where our dying knew full sore
How sweet the north-wind to the cheek it soon shall cool no more;
The fields we fought, and gained, and lost; the lowland sun and rain
That wasted us, that bleached the bones of our unburied slain!
There was no lack of foes to meet, of deaths to die no lack,
And all the hawks of heaven learned to follow on our track;
But henceforth, hovering southward, their flight shall mark afar
The paths of yon retreating hosts that shun the northern star.
At night, before the closing fray, when all the front was still,
We lay in bivouac along the cannon-crested hill.
Ours was the dauntless Second Corps; and many a soldier knew
How sped the fight, and sternly thought of what was yet to do.
Guarding the centre there, we lay, and talked with bated breath
Of Buford's stand beyond the town, of gallant Reynolds' death,
Of cruel retreats through pent-up streets by murderous volleys swept,—
How well the Stone, the Iron, Brigades their bloody outposts kept:
'T was for the Union, for the Flag, they perished, heroes all,
And we swore to conquer in the end, or even like them to fall.
And passed from mouth to mouth the tale of that grim day just done,
The fight by Round Top's craggy spur,—of all the deadliest one;
It saved the left: but on the right they pressed us back too well,
And like a field in Spring the ground was ploughed with shot and shell.
There was the ancient graveyard, its hummocks crushed and red,
And there, between them, side by side, the wounded and the dead:
The mangled corpses fallen above,—the peaceful dead below,
Laid in their graves, to slumber here, a score of years ago;
It seemed their waking, wandering shades were asking of our slain,
What brought such hideous tumult now where they so still had lain!
Bright rose the sun of Gettysburg that morrow morningtide,
And call of trump and roll of drum from height to height replied.
Hark! from the east already goes up the rattling din;
The Twelfth Corps, winning back their ground, right well the day begin!
They whirl fierce Ewell from their front! Now we of the Second pray,
As right and left the brunt have borne, the centre might to-day.
But all was still from hill to hill for many a breathless hour,
While for the coming battle-shock Lee gathered in his power;
And back and forth our leaders rode, who knew not rest or fear,
And along the lines, where'er they came, went up the ringing cheer.
'T was past the hour of nooning; the Summer skies were blue;
Behind the covering timber the foe was hid from view;
So fair and sweet with waving wheat the pleasant valley lay,
It brought to mind our Northern homes and meadows far away;
When the whole western ridge at once was fringed with fire and smoke;
Against our lines from sevenscore guns the dreadful tempest broke!
Then loud our batteries answer, and far along the crest,
And to and fro the roaring bolts are driven east and west;
Heavy and dark around us glooms the stifling sulphur-cloud,
And the cries of mangled men and horse go up beneath its shroud.
The guns are still: the end is nigh: we grasp our arms anew;
O now let every heart be stanch and every aim be true!
For look! from yonder wood that skirts the valley's further marge,
The flower of all the Southern host move to the final charge.
By Heaven! it is a fearful sight to see their double rank
Come with a hundred battle-flags,—a mile from flank to flank!
Tramping the grain to earth, they come, ten thousand men abreast;
Their standards wave,—their hearts are brave,—they hasten not, nor rest,
But close the gaps our cannon make, and onward press, and nigher,
And, yelling at our very front, again pour in their fire!
Now burst our sheeted lightnings forth, now all our wrath has vent!
They die, they wither; through and through their wavering lines are rent.
But these are gallant, desperate men, of our own race and land,
Who charge anew, and welcome death, and fight us hand to hand:
Vain, vain! give way, as well ye may—the crimson die is cast!
Their bravest leaders bite the dust, their strength is failing fast;
They yield, they turn, they fly the field: we smite them as they run;
Their arms, their colors are our spoil; the furious fight is done!
Across the plain we follow far and backward push the fray:
Cheer! cheer! the grand old Army at last has won the day!
Hurrah! the day has won the cause! No gray-clad host henceforth
Shall come with fire and sword to tread the highways of the North!
'Twas such a flood as when ye see, along the Atlantic shore,
The great Spring-tide roll grandly in with swelling surge and roar:
It seems no wall can stay its leap or balk its wild desire
Beyond the bound that Heaven hath fixed to higher mount, and higher;
But now, when whitest lifts its crest, most loud its billows call,
Touched by the Power that led them on, they fall, and fall, and fall.
Even thus, unstayed upon his course, to Gettysburg the foe
His legions led, and fought, and fled, and might no further go.
Full many a dark-eyed Southern girl shall weep her lover dead;
But with a price the fight was ours,—we too have tears to shed!
The bells that peal our triumph forth anon shall toll the brave,
Above whose heads the cross must stand, the hillside grasses wave!
Alas! alas! the trampled grass shall thrive another year,
The blossoms on the apple-boughs with each new Spring appear,
But when our patriot-soldiers fall, Earth gives them up to God;
Though their souls rise in clearer skies, their forms are as the sod;
Only their names and deeds are ours,—but, for a century yet,
The dead who fell at Gettysburg the land shall not forget.
God send us peace! and where for aye the loved and lost recline
Let fall, O South, your leaves of palm,—O North, your sprigs of pine!
But when, with every ripened year, we keep the harvest-home,
And to the dear Thanksgiving-feast our sons and daughters come,
When children's children throng the board in the old homestead spread,
And the bent soldier of these wars is seated at the head,
Long, long the lads shall listen to hear the gray-beard tell
Of those who fought at Gettysburg and stood their ground so well:
"'Twas for the Union and the Flag," the veteran shall say,
"Our grand old Army held the ridge, and won that glorious day!"