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Title: A Death-Sonnet for Custer

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: July 10, 1876

Publication information: New York Daily Tribune 10 July 1876: 5.

Source: Our transcription is based on a digital image of a microfilm copy of an original issue.

Whitman Archive ID: per.00142

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, April Lambert, and Susan Belasco




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A DEATH-SONNET FOR CUSTER.1

———

BY WALT WHITMAN.

I.

From far Montana's cañons,
Lands of the wild ravine, the dusky Sioux, the lone-
some stretch, the silence,
Haply, to-day, a mournful wail—haply, a trumpet
note for heroes.

II.

The battle-bulletin,
The Indian ambuscade—the slaughter and environ-
ment
The cavalry companies fighting to the last—in stern-
est, coolest, heroism.
The fall of Custer, and all his officers and men.

III.

Continues yet the old, old legend of our race!
The loftiest of life upheld by death!
The ancient banner perfectly maintained!
(O lesson opportune—O how I welcome thee!)
As, sitting in dark days,
Lone, sulky, through the time's thick murk looking
in vain for light, for hope,
From unsuspected parts, a fierce and momentary
proof,
(The sun there at the center, though concealed,
Electric life forever at the center,)
Breaks forth, a lightning flash.

IV.

Thou of sunny, flowing hair, in battle,
I erewhile saw, with erect head, pressing ever in
front, bearing a bright sword in thy hand,
Now ending well the splendid fever of thy deeds,
(I bring no dirge for it or thee—I bring a glad, tri-
umphal sonnet;)
There in the far northwest, in struggle, charge, and
saber-smite,
Desperate and glorious—aye, in defeat most desper-
ate, most glorious,
After thy many battles, in which, never yielding up
a gun or a color,
Leaving behind thee a memory sweet to soldiers,
Thou yieldest up thyself.

Notes:

1. Reprinted as "From Far Dakotas Cañons," Leaves of Grass (1881–82). [back]


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