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The Dresser


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 sud- 
 den your talking recals;
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.)
  [ begin page 32a ]ppp.00473.370.jpg 3But in silence, in dream's projections, While the world of gain and appearance and mirth goes  
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 pail,
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  
  [ begin page 33a ]ppp.00473.371.jpg 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;
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 looked on it.
8I dress a wound in the side, deep, deep; But a day or two more—for see, the frame all wasted  
 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 dream's projections, Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hos- 
  [ begin page 34a ]ppp.00473.372.jpg The hurt and the 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 sad;
(Many a soldier's loving arms about this neck have  
 cross'd and rested,
Many a soldier's kiss dwells on these bearded lips.)
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