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Cluster: Drum-Taps. (1871)

Table of Contents (1871)

Poems in this cluster


Aroused and angry, I thought to beat the alarum, and urge relentless war; But soon my fingers fail'd me, my face droop'd, and I  
  resign'd myself,
To sit by the wounded and soothe them, or silently watch  
  the dead.



1FIRST, O songs, for a prelude, Lightly strike on the stretch'd tympanum, pride and joy  
 in my city.
How she led the rest to arms—how she gave the cue, How at once with lithe limbs, unwaiting a moment, she  
(O superb! O Manhattan, my own, my peerless! O strongest you in the hour of danger, in crisis! O  
 truer than steel!)
How you sprang! how you threw off the costumes of  
 peace with indifferent hand;
How your soft opera-music changed, and the drum and  
 fife were heard in their stead;
How you led to the war, (that shall serve for our pre- 
 lude, songs of soldiers,)
How Manhattan drum-taps led.
  [ begin page 262 ]ppp.00270.264.jpg


2Forty years had I in my city seen soldiers parading; Forty years as a pageant—till unawares, the Lady of  
 this teeming and turbulent city,
Sleepless, amid her ships, her houses, her incalculable  
With her million children around her—suddenly, At dead of night, at news from the south, Incens'd, struck with clench'd hand the pavement.
3A shock electric—the night sustain'd it; Till with ominous hum, our hive at day-break pour'd  
 out its myriads.
4From the houses then, and the workshops, and  
 through all the doorways,
Leapt they tumultuous—and lo! Manhattan arming.


5To the drum-taps prompt, The young men falling in and arming; The mechanics arming, (the trowel, the jack-plane, the  
 blacksmith's hammer, tost aside with precipita- 
The lawyer leaving his office, and arming—the judge  
 leaving the court;
The driver deserting his wagon in the street, jumping  
 down, throwing the reins abruptly down on the  
 horses' backs;
The salesman leaving the store—the boss, book-keeper,  
 porter, all leaving;
Squads gather everywhere by common consent, and  
The new recruits, even boys—the old men show them  
 how to wear their accoutrements—they buckle  
 the straps carefully;
Outdoors arming—indoors arming—the flash of the  
The white tents cluster in camps—the arm'd sentries  
 around—the sunrise cannon, and again at sunset;
  [ begin page 263 ]ppp.00270.265.jpg Arm'd regiments arrive every day, pass through the  
 city, and embark from the wharves;
(How good they look, as they tramp down to the river,  
 sweaty, with their guns on their shoulders!
How I love them! how I could hug them, with their  
 brown faces, and their clothes and knapsacks  
 cover'd with dust!)
The blood of the city up—arm'd! arm'd! the cry  
The flags flung out from the steeples of churches, and  
 from all the public buildings and stores;
The tearful parting—the mother kisses her son—the  
 son kisses his mother;
(Loth is the mother to part—yet not a word does she  
 speak to detain him;)
The tumultuous escort—the ranks of policemen preced- 
 ing, clearing the way;
The unpent enthusiasm—the wild cheers of the crowd  
 for their favorites;
The artillery—the silent cannons, bright as gold, drawn  
 along, rumble lightly over the stones;
(Silent cannons—soon to cease your silence! Soon, unlimber'd, to begin the red business;) All the mutter of preparation—all the determin'd  
The hospital service—the lint, bandages, and medi- 
The women volunteering for nurses—the work begun  
 for, in earnest—no mere parade now;
War! an arm'd race is advancing!—the welcome for  
 battle—no turning away;
War! be it weeks, months, or years—an arm'd race is  
 advancing to welcome it.


6Mannahatta a-march!—and it's O to sing it well! It's O for a manly life in the camp! 7And the sturdy artillery! The guns, bright as gold—the work for giants—to serve  
 well the guns:
  [ begin page 264 ]ppp.00270.266.jpg Unlimber them! no more, as the past forty years, for  
 salutes for courtesies merely;
Put in something else now besides powder and wadding.


8And you, Lady of Ships! you Mannahatta; Old matron of this proud, friendly, turbulent city! Often in peace and wealth you were pensive, or covertly  
 frown'd amid all your children;
But now you smile with joy, exulting old Mannahatta!


ARM'D year! year of the struggle! No dainty rhymes or sentimental love verses for you,  
 terrible year!
Not you as some pale poetling, seated at a desk, lisping  
 cadenzas piano;
But as a strong man, erect, clothed in blue clothes, ad- 
 vancing, carrying a rifle on your shoulder,
With well-gristled body and sunburnt face and hands  
 —with a knife in a belt at your side,
As I heard you shouting loud—your sonorous voice  
 ringing across the continent;
Your masculine voice, O year, as rising amid the great  
Amid the men of Manhattan I saw you, as one of the  
 workmen, the dwellers in Manhattan;
Or with large steps crossing the prairies out of Illinois  
 and Indiana,
Rapidly crossing the West with springy gait, and de- 
 scending the Alleghanies;
Or down from the great lakes, or in Pennsylvania, or on  
 deck along the Ohio river;
Or southward along the Tennessee or Cumberland rivers,  
 or at Chattanooga on the mountain top,
  [ begin page 265 ]ppp.00270.267.jpg Saw I your gait and saw I your sinewy limbs, clothed  
 in blue, bearing weapons, robust year;
Heard your determin'd voice, launch'd forth again and  
Year that suddenly sang by the mouths of the round- 
 lipp'd cannon,
I repeat you, hurrying, crashing, sad, distracted year.



BEAT! beat! drums!—Blow! bugles! blow! Through the windows—through doors—burst like a  
 ruthless force,
Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation; Into the school where the scholar is studying; Leave not the bridegroom quiet—no happiness must he  
 have now with his bride;
Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, plowing his field or  
 gathering his grain;
So fierce you whirr and pound, you drums—so shrill you  
 bugles blow.


Beat! beat! drums!—Blow! bugles! blow! Over the traffic of cities—over the rumble of wheels in  
 the streets:
Are beds prepared for sleepers at night in the houses?  
 No sleepers must sleep in those beds;
No bargainers' bargains by day—no brokers or specu- 
 lators—Would they continue?
Would the talkers be talking? would the singer attempt  
 to sing?
Would the lawyer rise in the court to state his case be- 
 fore the judge?
Then rattle quicker, heavier drums—you bugles wilder  
  [ begin page 266 ]ppp.00270.268.jpg


Beat! beat! drums!—Blow! bugles! blow! Make no parley—stop for no expostulation; Mind not the timid—mind not the weeper or prayer; Mind not the old man beseeching the young man; Let not the child's voice be heard, nor the mother's en- 
Make even the trestles to shake the dead, where they  
 lie awaiting the hearses,
So strong you thump, O terrible drums—so loud you  
 bugles blow.


FROM Paumanok starting, I fly like a bird, Around and around to soar, to sing the idea of all; To the north betaking myself, to sing there arctic  
To Kanada, 'till I absorb Kanada in myself—to Michi- 
 gan then,
To Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, to sing their songs,  
 (they are inimitable;)
Then to Ohio and Indiana to sing theirs—to Missouri  
 and Kansas and Arkansas, to sing theirs,
To Tennessee and Kentucky—to the Carolinas and  
 Georgia, to sing theirs,
To Texas, and so along up toward California, to roam  
 accepted everywhere;
To sing first, (to the tap of the war-drum, if need be,) The idea of all—of the western world, one and insepa- 
And then the song of each member of These States.
  [ begin page 267 ]ppp.00270.269.jpg


RISE, O days, from your fathomless deeps, till you  
 loftier, fiercer sweep!
Long for my soul, hungering gymnastic, I devour'd  
 what the earth gave me;
Long I roam'd the woods of the north—long I watch'd  
 Niagara pouring;
I travel'd the prairies over, and slept on their breast—  
 I cross'd the Nevadas, I cross'd the plateaus;
I ascended the towering rocks along the Pacific, I sail'd  
 out to sea;
I sail'd through the storm, I was refresh'd by the storm; I watch'd with joy the threatening maws of the waves; I mark'd the white combs where they career'd so high,  
 curling over;
I heard the wind piping, I saw the black clouds; Saw from below what arose and mounted, (O superb! O  
 wild as my heart, and powerful!)
Heard the continuous thunder, as it bellow'd after the  
Noted the slender and jagged threads of lightning, as  
 sudden and fast amid the din they chased each  
 other across the sky;
—These, and such as these, I, elate, saw—saw with  
 wonder, yet pensive and masterful;
All the menacing might of the globe uprisen around  
Yet there with my soul I fed—I fed content, super- 


'Twas well, O soul! 'twas a good preparation you gave  
Now we advance our latent and ampler hunger to fill; Now we go forth to receive what the earth and the sea  
 never gave us;
Not through the mighty woods we go, but through the  
 mightier cities;
  [ begin page 268 ]ppp.00270.270.jpg Something for us is pouring now, more than Niagara  
Torrents of men, (sources and rills of the Northwest,  
 are you indeed inexhaustible?)
What, to pavements and homesteads here—what were  
 those storms of the mountains and sea?
What, to passions I witness around me to-day? Was  
 the sea risen?
Was the wind piping the pipe of death under the black  
Lo! from deeps more unfathomable, something more  
 deadly and savage;
Manhattan, rising, advancing with menacing front—  
 Cincinnati, Chicago, unchain'd;
—What was that swell I saw on the ocean? behold  
 what comes here!
How it climbs with daring feet and hands! how it  
How the true thunder bellows after the lightning! how  
 bright the flashes of lightning!
How DEMOCRACY, with desperate vengeful port strides  
 on, shown through the dark by those flashes of  
(Yet a mournful wail and low sob I fancied I heard  
 through the dark,
In a lull of the deafening confusion.)


Thunder on! stride on, Democracy! strike with venge- 
 ful stroke!
And do you rise higher than ever yet, O days, O cities! Crash heavier, heavier yet, O storms! you have done me  
My soul, prepared in the mountains, absorbs your im- 
 mortal strong nutriment;
—Long had I walk'd my cities, my country roads,  
 through farms, only half satisfied;
One doubt, nauseous, undulating like a snake, crawl'd  
 on the ground before me,
  [ begin page 269 ]ppp.00270.271.jpg Continually preceding my steps, turning upon me oft,  
 ironically hissing low;
—The cities I loved so well, I abandon'd and left—I  
 sped to the certainties suitable to me;
Hungering, hungering, hungering, for primal energies,  
 and Nature's dauntlessness,
I refresh'd myself with it only, I could relish it only; I waited the bursting forth of the pent fire—on the  
 water and air I waited long;
—But now I no longer wait—I am fully satisfied—I am  
I have witness'd the true lightning—I have witness'd  
 my cities electric;
I have lived to behold man burst forth, and warlike  
 America rise;
Hence I will seek no more the food of the northern sol- 
 itary wilds,
No more on the mountains roam, or sail the stormy sea.


CITY of ships! (O the black ships! O the fierce ships! O the beautiful, sharp bow'd steam-ships and sail-ships!) City of the world! (for all races are here; All the lands of the earth make contributions here;) City of the sea! city of hurried and glittering tides! City whose gleeful tides continually rush or recede,  
 whirling in and out, with eddies and foam!
City of wharves and stores! city of tall façades of mar- 
 ble and iron!
Proud and passionate city! mettlesome, mad, extrava- 
 gant city!
Spring up, O city! not for peace alone, but be indeed  
 yourself, warlike!
Fear not! submit to no models but your own, O city! Behold me! incarnate me, as I have incarnated you!   [ begin page 270 ]ppp.00270.272.jpg I have rejected nothing you offer'd me—whom you  
 adopted, I have adopted;
Good or bad, I never question you—I love all—I do not  
 condemn anything;
I chant and celebrate all that is yours—yet peace no  
In peace I chanted peace, but now the drum of war is  
War, red war, is my song through your streets, O city!



(At Washington Park, Brooklyn, assisting the Centenarian.) 1GIVE me your hand, old Revolutionary; The hill-top is nigh—but a few steps, (make room, gen- 
Up the path you have follow'd me well, spite of your  
 hundred and extra years;
You can walk, old man, though your eyes are almost  
Your faculties serve you, and presently I must have  
 them serve me.
2Rest, while I tell what the crowd around us means; On the plain below, recruits are drilling and exercising; There is the camp—one regiment departs to-morrow; Do you hear the officers giving the orders? Do you hear the clank of the muskets? 3Why, what comes over you now, old man? Why do you tremble, and clutch my hand so convul- 
The troops are but drilling—they are yet surrounded  
 with smiles;
  [ begin page 271 ]ppp.00270.273.jpg Around them, at hand, the well-drest friends, and the  
While splendid and warm the afternoon sun shines  
Green the midsummer verdure, and fresh blows the  
 dallying breeze,
O'er proud and peaceful cities, and arm of the sea be- 
4But drill and parade are over—they march back to  
Only hear that approval of hands! hear what a clap- 
5As wending, the crowds now part and disperse—but  
 we, old man,
Not for nothing have I brought you hither—we must  
You to speak in your turn, and I to listen and tell.


6When I clutch'd your hand, it was not with terror; But suddenly, pouring about me here, on every side, And below there where the boys were drilling, and up  
 the slopes they ran,
And where tents are pitch'd, and wherever you see,  
 south and south-east and south-west,
Over hills, across lowlands, and in the skirts of woods, And along the shores, in mire (now fill'd over), came  
 again, and suddenly raged,
As eighty-five years a-gone, no mere parade receiv'd  
 with applause of friends,
But a battle, which I took part in myself—aye, long ago  
 as it is, I took part in it,
Walking then this hill-top, this same ground.
7Aye, this is the ground; My blind eyes, even as I speak, behold it re-peopled  
 from graves;
  [ begin page 272 ]ppp.00270.274.jpg The years recede, pavements and stately houses disap- 
Rude forts appear again, the old hoop'd guns are  
I see the lines of rais'd earth stretching from river to  
I mark the vista of waters, I mark the uplands and  
Here we lay encamp'd—it was this time in summer also.
8As I talk, I remember all—I remember the Declara- 
It was read here—the whole army paraded—it was  
 read to us here;
By his staff surrounded, the General stood in the mid- 
 dle—he held up his unsheath'd sword,
It glitter'd in the sun in full sight of the army.
9'Twas a bold act then; The English war-ships had just arrived—the king had  
 sent them from over the sea;
We could watch down the lower bay where they lay at  
And the transports, swarming with soldiers.
10A few days more, and they landed—and then the  
11Twenty thousand were brought against us, A veteran force, furnish'd with good artillery. 12I tell not now the whole of the battle; But one brigade, early in the forenoon, order'd forward  
 to engage the red-coats;
Of that brigade I tell, and how steadily it march'd, And how long and how well it stood, confronting death.
13Who do you think that was, marching steadily, stern- 
 ly confronting death?
It was the brigade of the youngest men, two thousand  
  [ begin page 273 ]ppp.00270.275.jpg Rais'd in Virginia and Maryland, and many of them  
 known personally to the General.
14Jauntily forward they went with quick step toward  
 Gowanus' waters;
Till of a sudden, unlook'd for, by defiles through the  
 woods, gain'd at night,
The British advancing, wedging in from the east,  
 fiercely playing their guns,
That brigade of the youngest was cut off, and at the  
 enemy's mercy.
15The General watch'd them from this hill; They made repeated desperate attempts to burst their  
Then drew close together, very compact, their flag  
 flying in the middle;
But O from the hills how the cannon were thinning and  
 thinning them!
16It sickens me yet, that slaughter! I saw the moisture gather in drops on the face of the  
I saw how he wrung his hands in anguish.
17Meanwhile the British maneuver'd to draw us out  
 for a pitch'd battle;
But we dared not trust the chances of a pitch'd battle.
18We fought the fight in detachments; Sallying forth, we fought at several points—but in each  
 the luck was against us;
Our foe advancing, steadily getting the best of it, push'd  
 us back to the works on this hill;
Till we turn'd, menacing, here, and then he left us.
19That was the going out of the brigade of the young- 
 est men, two thousand strong;
Few return'd—nearly all remain in Brooklyn.
20That, and here, my General's first battle;   [ begin page 274 ]ppp.00270.276.jpg No women looking on, nor sunshine to bask in—it did  
 not conclude with applause;
Nobody clapp'd hands here then.
21But, in darkness, in mist, on the ground, under a chill  
Wearied that night we lay, foil'd and sullen; While scornfully laugh'd many an arrogant lord, off  
 against us encamp'd,
Quite within hearing, feasting, klinking wine-glasses  
 together over their victory.
22So, dull and damp, and another day; But the night of that, mist lifting, rain ceasing, Silent as a ghost, while they thought they were sure of  
 him, my General retreated.
23I saw him at the river-side, Down by the ferry, lit by torches, hastening the embar- 
My General waited till the soldiers and wounded were  
 all passed over;
And then, (it was just ere sunrise,) these eyes rested on  
 him for the last time.
24Every one else seem'd fill'd with gloom; Many no doubt thought of capitulation. 25But when my General pass'd me, As he stood in his boat, and look'd toward the coming  
I saw something different from capitulation.


26Enough—the Centenarian's story ends; The two, the past and present, have interchanged; I myself, as connecter, as chansonnier of a great future,  
 am now speaking.
  [ begin page 275 ]ppp.00270.277.jpg 27And is this the ground Washington trod? And these waters I listlessly daily cross, are these the  
 waters he cross'd,
As resolute in defeat, as other generals in their proudest  
28It is well—a lesson like that, always comes good; I must copy the story, and send it eastward and west- 
I must preserve that look, as it beam'd on you, rivers  
 of Brooklyn.
29See! as the annual round returns, the phantoms  
It is the 27th of August, and the British have landed; The battle begins, and goes against us—behold! through  
 the smoke, Washington's face;
The brigade of Virginia and Maryland have march'd  
 forth to intercept the enemy;
They are cut off—murderous artillery from the hills  
 plays upon them;
Rank after rank falls, while over them silently droops  
 the flag,
Baptized that day in many a young man's bloody  
In death, defeat, and sisters', mothers' tears.
30Ah, hills and slopes of Brooklyn! I perceive you are  
 more valuable than your owners supposed;
Ah, river! henceforth you will be illumin'd to me at  
 sunrise with something besides the sun.
31Encampments new! in the midst of you stands an  
 encampment very old;
Stands forever the camp of the dead brigade.
  [ begin page 276 ]ppp.00270.278.jpg

An Army Corps on the March.

WITH its cloud of skirmishers in advance, With now the sound of a single shot, snapping like a  
 whip, and now an irregular volley,
The swarming ranks press on and on, the dense brigades  
 press on;
Glittering dimly, toiling under the sun—the dust-cover'd  
In columns rise and fall to the undulations of the  
With artillery interspers'd—the wheels rumble, the  
 horses sweat,
As the army corps advances.

Cavalry Crossing a Ford.

A LINE in long array, where they wind betwixt green  
They take a serpentine course—their arms flash in the  
 sun—Hark to the musical clank;
Behold the silvery river—in it the splashing horses,  
 loitering, stop to drink;
Behold the brown-faced men—each group, each person,  
 a picture—the negligent rest on the saddles;
Some emerge on the opposite bank—others are just  
 entering the ford—while,
Scarlet, and blue, and snowy white, The guidon flags flutter gaily in the wind.
  [ begin page 277 ]ppp.00270.279.jpg

Bivouac on a Mountain Side.

I SEE before me now, a traveling army halting; Below, a fertile valley spread, with barns, and the  
 orchards of summer;
Behind, the terraced sides of a mountain, abrupt in  
 places, rising high!
Broken, with rocks, with clinging cedars, with tall  
 shapes, dingily seen;
The numerous camp-fires scatter'd near and far, some  
 away up on the mountain;
The shadowy forms of men and horses, looming, large- 
 sized, flickering;
And over all, the sky—the sky! far, far out of reach,  
 studded, breaking out, the eternal stars.

By the Bivouac's Fitful Flame.

BY the bivouac's fitful flame, A procession winding around me, solemn and sweet and  
 slow;—but first I note,
The tents of the sleeping army, the fields' and woods'  
 dim outline,
The darkness, lit by spots of kindled fire—the silence; Like a phantom far or near an occasional figure moving; The shrubs and trees, (as I left my eyes they seem to  
 be stealthily watching me;)
While wind in procession thoughts, O tender and  
 wondrous thoughts,
Of life and death—of home and the past and loved,  
 and of those that are far away;
A solemn and slow procession there as I sit on the  
By the bivouac's fitful flame.
  [ begin page 278 ]ppp.00270.280.jpg

Come Up from the Fields, Father.


1COME up from the fields, father, here's a letter from  
 our Pete;
And come to the front door, mother—here's a letter  
 from thy dear son.


2Lo, 'tis autumn; Lo, where the trees, deeper green, yellower and redder; Cool and sweeten Ohio's villages, with leaves fluttering  
 in the moderate wind;
Where apples ripe in the orchards hang, and grapes on  
 the trellis'd vines;
(Smell you the smell of the grapes on the vines? Smell you the buckwheat, where the bees were lately  
3Above all, lo, the sky, so calm, so transparent after  
 the rain, and with wondrous clouds;
Below, too, all calm, all vital and beautiful—and the  
 farm prospers well.


4Down in the fields all prospers well; But now from the fields come, father—come at the  
 daughter's call;
And come to the entry, mother—to the front door come,  
 right away.
5Fast as she can she hurries—something ominous—  
 her steps trembling;
She does not tarry to smooth her hair, nor adjust her  
6Open the envelope quickly;   [ begin page 279 ]ppp.00270.281.jpg O this is not our son's writing, yet his name is sign'd; O a strange hand writes for our dear son—O stricken  
 mother's soul!
All swims before her eyes—flashes with black—she  
 catches the main words only;
Sentences broken—gun-shot wound in the breast, cavalry  
  skirmish, taken to hospital,
At present low, but will soon be better.


7Ah, now the single figure to me, Amid all teeming and wealthy Ohio, with all its cities  
 and farms,
Sickly white in the face, and dull in the head, very faint, By the jamb of a door leans.
8 Grieve not so, dear mother, (the just-grown daughter  
 speaks through her sobs;
The little sisters huddle around, speechless and dis- 
See, dearest mother, the letter says Pete will soon be better.


9Alas, poor boy, he will never be better, (nor may-be  
 needs to be better, that brave and simple soul;)
While they stand at home at the door, he is dead  
The only son is dead.
10But the mother needs to be better; She, with thin form, presently drest in black; By day her meals untouch'd—then at night fitfully  
 sleeping, often waking,
In the midnight waking, weeping, longing with one deep  
O that she might withdraw unnoticed—silent from life,  
 escape and withdraw,
To follow, to seek, to be with her dear dead son.
  [ begin page 280 ]ppp.00270.282.jpg


VIGIL strange I kept on the field one night: When you, my son and my comrade, dropt at my side  
 that day,
One look I but gave, which your dear eyes return'd,  
 with a look I shall never forget;
One touch of your hand to mine, O boy, reach'd up as  
 you lay on the ground;
Then onward I sped in the battle, the even-contested  
Till late in the night reliev'd, to the place at last again I  
 made my way;
Found you in death so cold, dear comrade—found your  
 body, son of responding kisses, (never again on  
 earth responding;)
Bared your face in the starlight—curious the scene—  
 cool blew the moderate night-wind;
Long there and then in vigil I stood, dimly around me  
 the battle-field spreading;
Vigil wondrous and vigil sweet, there in the fragrant  
 silent night;
But not a tear fell, not even a long-drawn sigh—Long,  
 long I gazed;
Then on the earth partially reclining, sat by your side,  
 leaning my chin in my hands;
Passing sweet hours, immortal and mystic hours with  
 you, dearest comrade—Not a tear, not a word;
Vigil of silence, love and death—vigil for you, my son  
 and my soldier,
As onward silently stars aloft, eastward new ones up- 
 ward stole;
Vigil final for you, brave boy, (I could not save you,  
 swift was your death,
I faithfully loved you and cared for you living—I think  
 we shall surely meet again;)
Till at latest lingering of the night, indeed just as the  
 dawn appear'd,
My comrade I wrapt in his blanket, envelop'd well his  
  [ begin page 281 ]ppp.00270.283.jpg Folded the blanket well, tucking it carefully over head,  
 and carefully under feet;
And there and then, and bathed by the rising sun, my  
 son in his grave, in his rude-dug grave I de- 
Ending my vigil strange with that—vigil of night and  
 battle-field dim;
Vigil for boy of responding kisses, (never again on earth  
Vigil for comrade swiftly slain—vigil I never forget,  
 how as day brighten'd,
I rose from the chill ground, and folded my soldier well  
 in his blanket,
And buried him where he fell.


A MARCH in the ranks hard-prest, and the road unknown; A route through a heavy wood, with muffled steps in  
 the darkness;
Our army foil'd with loss severe, and the sullen remnant  
Till after midnight glimmer upon us, the lights of a  
 dim-lighted building;
We come to an open space in the woods, and halt by  
 the dim-lighted building;
'Tis a large old church at the crossing roads—'tis now  
 an impromptu hospital;
—Entering but for a minute, I see a sight beyond all  
 the pictures and poems ever made;
Shadows of deepest, deepest black, just lit by moving  
 candles and lamps,
And by one great pitchy torch, stationary, with wild red  
 flame, and clouds of smoke;
By these, crowds, groups of forms, vaguely I see, on the  
 floor, some in the pews laid down;
  [ begin page 282 ]ppp.00270.284.jpg At my feet more distinctly, a soldier, a mere lad, in  
 danger of bleeding to death, (he is shot in the  
I staunch the blood temporarily, (the youngster's face  
 is white as a lily;)
Then before I depart I sweep my eyes o'er the scene,  
 fain to absorb it all;
Faces, varieties, postures beyond description, most in  
 obscurity, some of them dead;
Surgeons operating, attendants holding lights, the smell  
 of ether, the odor of blood;
The crowd, O the crowd of the bloody forms of soldiers  
 —the yard outside also fill'd;
Some on the bare ground, some on planks or stretchers,  
 some in the death-spasm sweating;
An occasional scream or cry, the doctor's shouted orders  
 or calls;
The glisten of the little steel instruments catching the  
 glint of the torches;
These I resume as I chant—I see again the forms, I  
 smell the odor;
Then hear outside the orders given, Fall in, my men,  
  Fall in;
But first I bend to the dying lad—his eyes open—a  
 half-smile gives he me;
Then the eyes close, calmly close, and I speed forth to  
 the darkness,
Resuming, marching, ever in darkness marching, on in  
 the ranks,
The unknown road still marching.


1A SIGHT in camp in the day-break grey and dim, As from my tent I emerge so early, sleepless, As slow I walk in the cool fresh air, the path near by  
 the hospital tent,
  [ begin page 283 ]ppp.00270.285.jpg Three forms I see on stretchers lying, brought out  
 there, untended lying,
Over each the blanket spread, ample brownish woollen  
Grey and heavy blanket, folding, covering all.
2Curious, I halt, and silent stand. Then with light fingers I from the face of the nearest,  
 the first, just lift the blanket:
Who are you, elderly man so gaunt and grim, with well- 
 grey'd hair, and flesh all sunken about the eyes?
Who are you, my dear comrade?
3Then to the second I step—And who are you, my  
 child and darling?
Who are you, sweet boy, with cheeks yet blooming?
4Then to the third—a face nor child, nor old, very  
 calm, as of beautiful yellow-white ivory;
Young man, I think I know you—I think this face of  
 yours is the face of the Christ himself;
Dead and divine, and brother of all, and here again he  


NOT the pilot has charged himself to bring his ship  
 into port, though beaten back, and many times  
Not the path-finder, penetrating inland, weary and  
By deserts parch'd, snows-chill'd, rivers wet, perseveres  
 till he reaches his destination,
More than I have charged myself, heeded or unheeded,  
 to compose a free march for These States,
To be exhilarating music to them—a battle-call, rousing  
 to arms, if need be—years, centuries hence.
  [ begin page 284 ]ppp.00270.286.jpg


1AS TOILSOME I wander'd Virginia's woods, To the music of rustling leaves, kick'd by my feet, (for  
 'twas autumn,)
I mark'd at the foot of a tree the grave of a soldier, Mortally wounded he, and buried on the retreat, (easily  
 all could I understand;
The halt of a mid-day hour, when up! no time to lose  
 —yet this sign left,
On a tablet scrawl'd and nail'd on the tree by the grave, Bold, cautious, true, and my loving comrade.
2Long, long I muse, then on my way go wandering; Many a changeful season to follow, and many a scene  
 of life;
Yet at times through changeful season and scene, ab- 
 rupt, alone, or in the crowded street,
Comes before me the unknown soldier's grave—comes  
 the inscription rude in Virginia's woods,
Bold, cautious, true, and my loving comrade.

Year that Trembled and Reel'd Beneath Me.

YEAR that trembled and reel'd beneath me! Your summer wind was warm enough—yet the air I  
 breathed froze me;
A thick gloom fell through the sunshine and darken'd  
Must I change my triumphant songs? said I to my- 
Must I indeed learn to chant the cold dirges of the baf- 
And sullen hymns of defeat?
  [ begin page 285 ]ppp.00270.287.jpg



1AN old man bending, I come, among new faces, Years looking backward, resuming, in answer to chil- 
Come tell us, old man, as from young men and maidens  
 that love me;
Years hence of these scenes, of these furious passions,  
 these chances,
Of unsurpass'd heroes, (was one side so brave? the  
 other was equally brave;)
Now be witness again—paint the mightiest armies of  
Of those armies so rapid, so wondrous, what saw you to  
 tell us?
What stays with you latest and deepest? of curious  
Of hard-fought engagements, or sieges tremendous,  
 what deepest remains?


2O maidens and young men I love, and that love me, What you ask of my days, those the strangest and  
 sudden your talking recalls;
Soldier alert I arrive, after a long march, cover'd with  
 sweat and dust;
In the nick of time I come, plunge in the fight, loudly  
 shout in the rush of successful charge;
Enter the captur'd works….yet lo! like a swift  
 running river, they fade;
Pass and are gone, they fade—I dwell not on soldiers'  
 perils or soldiers' joys;
(Both I remember well—many the hardships, few the  
 joys, yet I was content.)
3But in silence, in dreams' projections, While the world of gain and appearance and mirth goes  
  [ begin page 286 ]ppp.00270.288.jpg So soon what is over forgotten, and waves wash the  
 imprints off the sand,
In nature's reverie sad, with hinged knees returning, I  
 enter the doors—(while for you up there,
Whoever you are, follow me without noise, and be of  
 strong heart.)


4Bearing the bandages, water and sponge, Straight and swift to my wounded I go, Where they lie on the ground, after the battle brought  
Where their priceless blood reddens the grass, the  
Or to the rows of the hospital tent, or under the roof'd  
To the long rows of cots, up and down, each side, I  
To each and all, one after another, I draw near—not  
 one do I miss;
An attendant follows, holding a tray—he carries a refuse  
Soon to be fill'd with clotted rags and blood, emptied,  
 and fill'd again.
5I onward go, I stop, With hinged knees and steady hand, to dress wounds; I am firm with each—the pangs are sharp, yet unavoid- 
One turns to me his appealing eyes—(poor boy! I  
 never knew you,
Yet I think I could not refuse this moment to die for  
 you, if that would save you.)


6On, on I go—(open, doors of time! open, hospital  
The crush'd head I dress, (poor crazed hand, tear not  
 the bandage away;)
The neck of the cavalry-man, with the bullet through  
 and through, I examine;
  [ begin page 287 ]ppp.00270.289.jpg Hard the breathing rattles, quite glazed already the  
 eye, yet life struggles hard;
(Come, sweet death! be persuaded, O beautiful death! In mercy come quickly.)
7From the stump of the arm, the amputated hand, I undo the clotted lint, remove the slough, wash off the  
 matter and blood;
Back on his pillow the soldier bends, with curv'd neck,  
 and side-falling head;
His eyes are closed, his face is pale, (he dares not look  
 on the bloody stump,
And has not yet look'd on it.)
8I dress a wound in the side, deep, deep; But a day or two more—for see, the frame all wasted  
 already, and sinking,
And the yellow-blue countenance see.
9I dress the perforated shoulder, the foot with the bul- 
 let wound,
Cleanse the one with a gnawing and putrid gangrene,  
 so sickening, so offensive,
While the attendant stands behind aside me, holding  
 the tray and pail.
10I am faithful, I do not give out; The fractur'd thigh, the knee, the wound in the abdo- 
These and more I dress with impassive hand—(yet deep  
 in my breast a fire, a burning flame.)


11Thus in silence, in dreams' projections, Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the  
The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand, I sit by the restless all the dark night—some are so  
Some suffer so much—I recall the experience sweet and  
(Many a soldier's loving arms about this neck have  
 cross'd and rested,
Many a soldier's kiss dwells on these bearded lips.)
  [ begin page 288 ]ppp.00270.290.jpg


LONG, too long, O land, Traveling roads all even and peaceful, you learn'd from  
 joys and prosperity only;
But now, ah now, to learn from crises of anguish—ad- 
 vancing, grappling with direst fate, and recoiling  
And now to conceive, and show to the world, what your  
 children en-masse really are;
(For who except myself has yet conceiv'd what your  
 children en-masse really are?)



GIVE me the splendid silent sun, with all his beams full- 
Give me juicy autumnal fruit, ripe and red from the  
Give me a field where the unmow'd grass grows; Give me an arbor, give me the trellis'd grape; Give me fresh corn and wheat—give me serene-moving  
 animals, teaching content;
Give me nights perfectly quiet, as on high plateaus  
 west of the Mississippi, and I looking up at the  
Give me odorous at sunrise a garden of beautiful flow- 
 ers, where I can walk undisturb'd;
Give me for marriage a sweet-breath'd woman, of whom  
 I should never tire;
Give me a perfect child—give me, away, aside from the  
 noise of the world, a rural domestic life;
Give me to warble spontaneous songs, reliev'd, recluse  
 by myself, for my own ears only;
  [ begin page 289 ]ppp.00270.291.jpg Give me solitude—give me Nature—give me again, O  
 Nature, your primal sanities!
—These, demanding to have them, (tired with cease- 
 less excitement, and rack'd by the war-strife;)
These to procure, incessantly asking, rising in cries  
 from my heart,
While yet incessantly asking, still I adhere to my city; Day upon day, and year upon year, O city, walking your  
Where you hold me enchain'd a certain time, refusing  
 to give me up;
Yet giving to make me glutted, enrich'd of soul—you  
 give me forever faces;
(O I see what I sought to escape, confronting, reversing  
 my cries;
I see my own soul trampling down what it ask'd for.)


Keep your splendid, silent sun; Keep your woods, O Nature, and the quiet places by  
 the woods;
Keep your fields of clover and timothy, and your corn- 
 fields and orchards;
Keep the blossoming buckwheat fields, where the Ninth- 
 month bees hum;
Give me faces and streets! give me these phantoms in- 
 cessant and endless along the trottoirs!
Give me interminable eyes! give me women! give me  
 comrades and lovers by the thousand!
Let me see new ones every day! let me hold new ones  
 by the hand every day!
Give me such shows! give me the streets of Manhat- 
Give me Broadway, with the soldiers marching—give  
 me the sound of the trumpets and drums!
(The soldiers in companies or regiments—some, start- 
 ing away, flush'd and reckless;
Some, their time up, returning, with thinn'd ranks—  
 young, yet very old, worn, marching, noticing  
  [ begin page 290 ]ppp.00270.292.jpg —Give me the shores and the wharves heavy-fringed  
 with the black ships!
O such for me! O an intense life! O full to repletion,  
 and varied!
The life of the theatre, bar-room, huge hotel, for me! The saloon of the steamer! the crowded excursion for  
 me! the torch-light procession!
The dense brigade, bound for the war, with high piled  
 military wagons following;
People, endless, streaming, with strong voices, passions,  
Manhattan streets, with their powerful throbs, with the  
 beating drums, as now;
The endless and noisy chorus, the rustle and clank of  
 muskets, (even the sight of the wounded;)
Manhattan crowds, with their turbulent musical chorus  
 —with varied chorus, and light of the sparkling  
Manhattan faces and eyes forever for me.



THE last sunbeam Lightly falls from the finish'd Sabbath, On the pavement here—and there beyond, it is looking,  
 Down a new-made double grave.


Lo! the moon ascending! Up from the east, the silvery round moon; Beautiful over the house-tops, ghastly, phantom moon;  
 Immense and silent moon.


I see a sad procession, And I hear the sound of coming full-key'd bugles;   [ begin page 291 ]ppp.00270.293.jpg All the channels of the city streets they're flooding,  
 As with voices and with tears.


I hear the great drums pounding, And the small drums steady whirring; And every blow of the great convulsive drums,  
 Strikes me through and through.


For the son is brought with the father; In the foremost ranks of the fierce assault they fell; Two veterans, son and father, dropt together,  
 And the double grave awaits them.


Now nearer blow the bugles, And the drums strike more convulsive; And the day-light o'er the pavement quite has faded,  
 And the strong dead-march enwraps me.


In the eastern sky up-buoying, The sorrowful vast phantom moves illumin'd; ('Tis some mother's large, transparent face,  
 In heaven brighter growing.)


O strong dead-march, you please me! O moon immense, with your silvery face you soothe me! O my soldiers twain! O my veterans, passing to burial!  
 What I have I also give you.


The moon gives you light, And the bugles and the drums give you music; And my heart, O my soldiers, my veterans,  
 My heart gives you love.
  [ begin page 292 ]ppp.00270.294.jpg


1OVER the carnage rose prophetic a voice, Be not dishearten'd—Affection shall solve the problems  
 of Freedom yet;
Those who love each other shall become invincible—  
 they shall yet make Columbia victorious.
2Sons of the Mother of All! you shall yet be victo- 
You shall yet laugh to scorn the attacks of all the re- 
 mainder of the earth.
3No danger shall balk Columbia's lovers; If need be, a thousand shall sternly immolate them- 
 selves for one.
4One from Massachusetts shall be a Missourian's com- 
From Maine and from hot Carolina, and another, an  
 Oregonese, shall be friends triune,
More precious to each other than all the riches of the  
5To Michigan, Florida, perfumes shall tenderly come; Not the perfumes of flowers, but sweeter, and wafted  
 beyond death.
6It shall be customary in the houses and streets to see  
 manly affection;
The most dauntless and rude shall touch face to face  
The dependence of Liberty shall be lovers, The continuance of Equality shall be comrades.
7These shall tie you and band you stronger than hoops  
 of iron;
I, extatic, O partners! O lands! with the love of lovers  
 tie you.
  [ begin page 293 ]ppp.00270.295.jpg 8(Were you looking to be held together by the lawyers? Or by an agreement on a paper? or by arms? —Nay—nor the world, nor any living thing, will so  


WHILE my wife at my side lies slumbering, and the wars  
 are over long,
And my head on the pillow rests at home, and the va- 
 cant midnight passes,
And through the stillness, through the dark, I hear,  
 just hear, the breath of my infant,
There in the room, as I wake from sleep, this vision  
 presses upon me:
The engagement opens there and then, in fantasy unreal; The skirmishers begin—they crawl cautiously ahead—  
 I hear the irregular snap! snap!
I hear the sounds of the different missiles—the short  
  t-h-t! t-h-t! of the rifle balls;
I see the shells exploding, leaving small white clouds—  
 I hear the great shells shieking as they pass;
The grape, like the hum and whirr of wind through the  
 trees, (quick, tumultuous, now the contest rages!)
All the scenes at the batteries themselves rise in detail  
 before me again;
The crashing and smoking—the pride of the men in  
 their pieces;
The chief gunner ranges and sights his piece, and se- 
 lects a fuse of the right time;
After firing, I see him lean aside, and look eagerly off  
 to note the effect;
—Elsewhere I hear the cry of a regiment charging—  
 (the young colonel leads himself this time, with  
 brandish'd sword;)
I see the gaps cut by the enemy's volleys, (quickly fill'd  
 up, no delay;)
  [ begin page 294 ]ppp.00270.296.jpg I breathe the suffocating smoke—then the flat clouds  
 hover low, concealing all;
Now a strange lull comes for a few seconds, not a shot  
 fired on either side;
Then resumed, the chaos louder than ever, with eager  
 calls, and orders of officers;
While from some distant part of the field the wind wafts  
 to my ears a shout of applause, (some special  
And ever the sound of the cannon, far or near, (rousing,  
 even in dreams, a devilish exultation, and all the  
 old mad joy, in the depths of my soul;)
And ever the hastening of infantry shifting positions—  
 batteries, cavalry, moving hither and thither;
(The falling, dying, I heed not—the wounded, dripping  
 and red, I heed not—some to the rear are hob- 
Grime, heat, rush—aid-de-camps galloping by, or on a  
 full run;
With the patter of small arms, the warning s-s-t of the  
 rifles, (these in my vision I hear or see,)
And bombs bursting in air, and at night the vari- 
 color'd rockets.


I SAW old General at bay; (Old as he was, his grey eyes yet shone out in battle  
 like stars;)
His small force was now completely hemm'd in, in his  
He call'd for volunteers to run the enemy's lines—a  
 desperate emergency;
I saw a hundred and more step forth from the ranks—  
 but two or three were selected;
I saw them receive their orders aside—they listen'd  
 with care—the adjutant was very grave;
I saw them depart with cheerfulness, freely risking their  
  [ begin page 295 ]ppp.00270.297.jpg


O TAN-FACED prairie-boy! Before you came to camp, came many a welcome gift; Praises and presents came, and nourishing food—till at  
 last, among the recruits,
You came, taciturn, with nothing to give—we but look'd  
 on each other,
When lo! more than all the gifts of the world, you  
 gave me.


LOOK down, fair moon, and bathe this scene; Pour softly down night's nimbus floods, on faces ghast- 
 ly, swollen, purple;
On the dead, on their backs, with their arms toss'd  
Pour down your unstinted nimbus, sacred moon.


WORD over all, beautiful as the sky! Beautiful that war, and all its deeds of carnage, must  
 in time be utterly lost;
That the hands of the sisters Death and Night, inces- 
 santly softly wash again, and ever again, this  
 soil'd world:
…For my enemy is dead—a man divine as myself is  
I look where he lies, white-faced and still, in the coffin  
 —I draw near;
I bend down, and touch lightly with my lips the white  
 face in the coffin.
  [ begin page 296 ]ppp.00270.298.jpg


(Washington City, 1865.) SPIRIT whose work is done! spirit of dreadful hours! Ere, departing, fade from my eyes your forests of bayo- 
Spirit of gloomiest fears and doubts, (yet onward ever  
 unfaltering pressing;)
Spirit of many a solemn day, and many a savage scene!  
 Electric spirit!
That with muttering voice, through the war now closed,  
 like a tireless phantom flitted,
Rousing the land with breath of flame, while you beat  
 and beat the drum;
—Now, as the sound of the drum, hollow and harsh to  
 the last, reverberates round me;
As your ranks, your immortal ranks, return, return  
 from the battles;
While the muskets of the young men yet lean over their  
While I look on the bayonets bristling over their shoul- 
While those slanted bayonets, whole forests of them,  
 appearing in the distance, approach and pass  
 on, returning homeward,
Moving with steady motion, swaying to and fro, to the  
 right and left,
Evenly, lightly rising and falling, as the steps keep  
—Spirit of hours I knew, all hectic red one day, but  
 pale as death next day;
Touch my mouth, ere you depart—press my lips close! Leave me your pulses of rage! bequeath them to me!  
 fill me with currents convulsive!
Let them scorch and blister out of my chants, when you  
 are gone;
Let them identify you to the future, in these songs.
  [ begin page 297 ]ppp.00270.299.jpg


(Washington City, 1865.) HOW solemn, as one by one, As the ranks returning, all worn and sweaty—as the  
 men file by where I stand;
As the faces, the masks appear—as I glance at the faces,  
 studying the masks;
(As I glance upward out of this page, studying you,  
 dear friend, whoever you are;)
How solemn the thought of my whispering soul, to each  
 in the ranks, and to you;
I see behind each mask, that wonder, a kindred soul; O the bullet could never kill what you really are, dear  
Nor the bayonet stab what you really are: …The soul! yourself I see, great as any, good as the  
Waiting, secure and content, which the bullet could  
 never kill,
Nor the bayonet stab, O friend!

Not Youth Pertains to Me.

NOT youth pertains to me, Nor delicatesse—I cannot beguile the time with talk; Awkward in the parlor, neither a dancer nor elegant; In the learn'd coterie sitting constrain'd and still—for  
 learning inures not to me;
Beauty, knowledge, inure not to me—yet there are two  
 or three things inure to me;
I have nourish'd the wounded, and sooth'd many a  
 dying soldier.
And at intervals, waiting, or in the midst of camp, Composed these songs.
  [ begin page 298 ]ppp.00270.300.jpg


TO the leaven'd soil they trod, calling, I sing, for the  
(Not cities, nor man alone, nor war, nor the dead, But forth from my tent emerging for good—loosing,  
 untying the tent-ropes;)
In the freshness, the forenoon air, in the far-stretching  
 circuits and vistas, again to peace restored,
To the fiery fields emanative, and the endless vistas  
 beyond—to the south and the north;
To the leaven'd soil of the general western world, to  
 attest my songs,
(To the average earth, the wordless earth, witness of  
 war and peace,)
To the Alleghanian hills, and the tireless Mississippi, To the rocks I, calling, sing, and all the trees in the  
To the plain of the poems of heroes, to the prairie  
 spreading wide,
To the far-off sea, and the unseen winds, and the sane  
 impalpable air;
…And responding, they answer all, (but not in words,) The average earth, the witness of war and peace,  
 acknowledges mutely;
The prairie draws me close, as the father, to bosom  
 broad, the son;
The Northern ice and rain, that began me, nourish me  
 to the end;
But the hot sun of the South is to ripen my songs.

Table of Contents (1871)

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