The Flag (Howe)

The Flag
by Julia Ward Howe

There's a flag hangs over my threshold, whose folds are more dear to me
Than the blood that thrills in my bosom its earnest of liberty;
And dear are the stars it harbors in its sunny field of blue
As the hope of a further heaven, that lights all our dim lives through.

But now should my guests be merry, the house is in holiday guise,
Looking out through its burnished windows like a score of welcoming eyes.
Come hither, my brothers, who wander in saintliness or in sin;
Come hither, ye pilgrims of Nature, my heart doth invite you in.

My wine is not of the choicest, yet bears it an honest brand;
And the bread that I bid you lighten, I break with no sparing hand:
But pause, ere ye pass to taste it, once act must accomplished be, –
Salute the flag in its virtue, before ye sit down with me.

The flag of our stately battles, not struggles of wrath and greed,
Its stripes were a holy lesson, its spangles a deathless creed:
'Twas red with the blood of freemen, and white with the fear of the foe;
And the stars that fight in their courses 'gaints tyrants its symbols know.

Come hither, thou son of my mother; we were reared in the self-same arms;
Thou hast many a pleasant gesture, thy mind hath its gifts and charms;
But my heart is as stern to question as mine eyes are of sorrows full:
Salute the flag in its virtue, or pass on where others rule!

Thou lord of a thousand acres, with heaps of uncounted gold,
The steeds of thy stall are haughty, thy lackeys cunning and bold;
I envy no jot of thy splendor, I rail at thy follies none, –
Salute the flag in its virtue, or leave my poor house alone!

Fair lady with silken flouncings, high waving thy guiltless plume,
We welcome thee to our banquet, a flower of costliest bloom.
Let an hundred maids live widows to furnish thy bridal bed;
But pause where the flag doth question, and bend thy triumphant head.

Take down now your flaunting banner; for a scout comes breathless and pale,
With the terror of death upon him; of failure is all his tale:
"They have fled while the flag waved o'er them, they've turned to the foe their back;
They are scattered, pursued, and slaughtered; the fields are all rout and wrack."

Pass hence, then, the friends I gathered, a goodly company,
All ye that have manhood in you, go, perish for Liberty!
But I and the babes God gave me will wait with uplifted hearts;
With the firm smile ready to kindle, and the will to perform our parts.

When the last true heart lies bloodless, when the fierce and the false have won,
I'll press in turn to my bosom each daughter and either son:
Bid them loose the flag from its bearing, and we'll lay us down to rest
With the glory of home about us, and its freedom locked in our breast.