Drum Taps Poem Analysis Essays

Walt Whitman 1819–1892

American poet, essayist, novelist, short story writer, journalist, and editor.

Although commonly and critically regarded as one of America's premier poets, Whitman remains in some ways a controversial figure. Leaves of Grass, his masterpiece, was revolutionary in both its style and content, praising the divinity of the self, of the common individual. The volume was directed at those Americans who, in Whitman's opinion, had been ignored by their country's literature, a literature which had typically targeted the upper echelons of society. Throughout his life and work, Whitman promoted himself as the poet of American democracy and of the common man. Yet the focus of his poetry on the sanctity and divinity of the self has been criticized as being more egotistical than spiritual, and his exploration and exaltation of sexuality and homosexuality has been both deplored and downplayed. Additionally, critics have analyzed how the Civil War changed Whitman's poetry, and have studied his ambivalent views on the subject of the treatment of Native Americans during his lifetime.

Biographical Information

Born on Long Island and raised and educated on Long Island and in Brooklyn, Whitman was the second of nine children. Leaving school at age eleven, he worked as a law office clerk, and later, as a typesetter's apprentice. After teaching school and starting his own newspaper, he began editing various papers. He also published poems and short stories in periodicals. In 1842, Whitman published a temperance novel entitled Franklin Evans; or, the Inebriate; he later dismissed the work as "damned rot." The first edition of Leaves of Grass was published in 1855 at Whitman's own expense. Nine editions would eventually be published. During the Civil War, Whitman cared for wounded soldiers in Washington, D.C., beginning in 1862 and later worked as a copyist in the army paymaster's office from 1863 to 1864. After the war, he worked for a short time for the Department of the Interior but was fired when it was discovered that he was the author of the allegedly obscene Leaves of Grass. Rehired as a Justice Department clerk, Whitman remained in this position until he suffered a paralytic

stroke in 1873, which left him partially disabled. He had recently published a philosophical essay, Democratic Vistas (1871) and the fifth edition of Leaves of Grass. While he lived for nearly twenty more years, Whitman produced little new work of significance, focusing instead on revising and rearranging Leaves of Grass.

Major Works

Leaves of Grass, in its final version, contains poems Whitman wrote between 1855 and 1892. The major themes of the work include democracy, sexuality, death, and immortality; universality and the divine nature of the self are also concepts that thread their way through much of his work. The first edition contained twelve poems, which shocked the public with their realistic imagery and candid discussions of sexuality. The volume received little praise from critics, with Ralph Waldo Emerson being the notable exception. In later editions of Leaves of Grass, Whitman created new poems, revised existing ones, added and changed titles, and thematically grouped the poems. In Drum-Taps (1865) and Sequel to Drum-Taps (1865-66), Whitman recorded many of his war experiences and mourned the loss of nation and lives. Drum-Taps was later incorporated into Leaves of Grass.

Critical Reception

While many critics concede that Whitman's concept of the self is of major significance in his work, V. K. Chari maintains that it is the "organizing principle" of Whitman's poetry. In analyzing Whitman's notion of the self, Chari maintains that to Whitman, the self was the true meaning and center of all existence, and that reality was not separate or different from the self. Chari demonstrates both the influence of Ralph Waldo Emerson's writing on Whitman and identifies the similarities between Whitman's views and Hindu philosophy. Additionally, while many critics observe a duality in Whitman's concept of the self (the body versus the spirit, the individual versus the universal), Chari emphasizes the unified, monistic nature of Whitman's self. E. Fred Carlisle concentrates on the relationship in Whitman's poetry between the self and both death and spirit. Carlisle argues that Whitman portrays death in a variety of ways: as a passage into a new life or into oblivion, as an end to suffering, as a threat, and as completion and fulfillment. Throughout Leaves of Grass, Carlisle states, Whitman attempts to comprehend how death serves or links the self and the spirit. Like Chari and Carlisle, David Kuebrich is concerned with Whitman's spirituality and argues that, contrary to the conviction of numerous critics, Whitman intended to begin a "new religion" and promoted his readers' spiritual development by offering them an orderly vision linking religion with contemporary ideas on American culture. Kuebrich outlines the way in which many modern critics address Whitman's spirituality, showing that they dismiss his religious language as "the symbolic manifestation of the distorted desires of the id," and that his spirituality is disregarded as his attempt, later in life, to fashion his earlier work as religious and prophetic. For M. Jimmie Killingsworth, Whitman's notion of the self is one that contains elements of the individual and the universal. Unlike Chari, Killingsworth highlights the duality of Whitman's concept of self, focusing on an apparent tension between singularity and diversity. Similarly, Mitchell Robert Breitwieser identifies in Whitman's poetry two distinct "I's" or "selves," the first "I" being a small, timid, individual, voice and the second "I" being a large, universal, affirming voice.

Just as the nature and significance of Whitman's concept of the self is a battleground for many critics, so is the issue of the centrality and importance of the sexual, and homosexual, themes in his poetry. Kenneth M. Price maintains that sexual themes—such as voyeurism, nonprocreative sexuality, and female sexuality—and the way Whitman treats such topics, influenced writers of narrative fiction. Price analyzes the way in which the approaches to sexual themes in the works of Hamlin Garland, Kate Chopin, and E. M. Forster are indebted to Whitman. Byrne R. S. Fone surveys the manner in which the homoeroticism in Whitman's text has been addressed by early and modern critics. Byrne argues that, in many cases, the homophobia inherent in the discourse of these Whitman scholars has detracted from the quality of textual and biographical analyses. Similarly, Betsy Erkkila notes that there is a critical tradition which has been responsible for "silencing, spiritualizing, heterosexualizing, or marginalizing Whitman's sexual feeling for men." Erkkila states that when critics do recognize the centrality of homosexuality to Whitman's work, often they maintain a distinction between the private Whitman and the public Whitman, as "the poet of democracy." In challenging this distinction, Erkkila contends that Whitman's "sexual love of men" is central to his "democratic vision and experimental poetics" in Leaves of Grass.

Whitman's interest in democracy and American political events and issues is revealed in his poetry and is a major focus of criticism. In particular, critics observe how the Civil War and Whitman's experience in it greatly influenced his poetry. James Dougherty investigates this influence, as demonstrated in Drum-Taps. Dougherty states that "Drum-Taps represents Whitman's bid to be 'absorbed' by America not as a radically democratic visionary but as the inheritor and master of a tradition according to which poems were like pictures." In his analysis of the strong visual images in Drum-Taps, Dougherty argues that while at first glance such "photographic" poems seem to be a new element in Whitman's work and seem to characterize Drum-Taps, in fact, such poems were presaged by Whitman's earlier work and are not the only type of poem in the volume. fürthermore, Dougherty identifies a conflict in the book between different styles and different points of view. This conflict, Dougherty argues, represents a tension not only between Whitman's pre-war faith in "physical and spiritual regeneration" and his post-war loss of that faith; the conflict also points to Whitman's doubts regarding his "original poetic." Another American political issue to fascinate Whitman was the treatment of Native Americans. Noting that Whitman's professional life was "framed" beginning in the late 1830s by the Great Removal of Native Americans to what would become Oklahoma, and fifty years later by the Wounded Knee massacre, Ed Folsom observes in Whitman's poetry and short stories a deeply ambivalent attitude toward Native Americans. Folsom asserts that "Whitman's plan to absorb the Indian via his poetry was … double-edged: his project admitted the inevitable loss of Indian cultures, but it simultaneously argued for the significance of those cultures and for the necessity of preserving them—as a warning, lesson, inspiration—at the heart of our memories, deep in the lines of authentic American poems."

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FIRST 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 sprang,

(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 prelude, songs
of soldiers,)

How Manhattan drum-taps led.

Forty 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 wealth,

With her million children around her, suddenly,

At dead of night, at news from the south,

Incens'd struck with clinch'd hand the pavement.

A shock electric, the night sustain'd it,

Till with ominous hum our hive at daybreak pour'd out its myriads.

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From the houses then and the workshops, and through all the

Leapt they tumultuous, and lo! Manhattan arming.

To the drum-taps prompt,

The young men falling in and arming,

The mechanics arming, (the trowel, the jack-plane, the black-
smith's hammer, tost aside with precipitation,)

The lawyer leaving his office and arming, the judge leaving the

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

Squads gather everywhere by common consent and arm,

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 musket-barrels,

The white tents cluster in camps, the arm'd sentries around, the
sunrise cannon and again at sunset,

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 everywhere,

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

(Loth is the mother to part, yet not a word does she speak to
detain him,)

The tumultuous escort, the ranks of policemen preceding, clearing
the way,

The unpent enthusiasm, the wild cheers of the crowd for their

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 arming,

The hospital service, the lint, bandages and medicines,

The women volunteering for nurses, the work begun for in earnest,
no mere parade now;

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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.

Mannahatta a-march—and it's O to sing it well!

It's O for a manly life in the camp.

And the sturdy artillery,

The guns bright as gold, the work for giants, to serve well the guns,

Unlimber them! (no more as the past forty years for salutes for
courtesies merely,

Put in something now besides powder and wadding.)

And 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

But as a strong man erect, clothed in blue clothes, advancing,
carrying a rifle on your shoulder,

With well-gristled body and sunburnt face and hands, with a knife
in the 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 cities,

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

Rapidly crossing the West with springy gait and descending the

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,

Saw I your gait and saw I your sinewy limbs clothed in blue,
bearing weapons, robust year,

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Heard your determin'd voice launch'd forth again and again,

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

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, ploughing his field or gathering
his grain,

So fierce you whirr and pound you drums—so shrill you bugles

Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!

Over the traffic of cities—over the rumble of wheels in the

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 speculators—
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 before the

Then rattle quicker, heavier drums—you bugles wilder blow.

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 entreaties,

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 songs,

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To Kanada till I absorb Kanada in myself, to Michigan then,

To Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, to sing their songs, (they are

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

To Texas and so along up toward California, to roam accepted

To sing first, (to the tap of the war-drum if need be,)

The idea of all, of the Western world one and inseparable,

And then the song of each member of these States.



O A new song, a free song,

Flapping, flapping, flapping, flapping, by sounds, by voices clearer,

By the wind's voice and that of the drum,

By the banner's voice and child's voice and sea's voice and father's

Low on the ground and high in the air,

On the ground where father and child stand,

In the upward air where their eyes turn,

Where the banner at daybreak is flapping.

Words! book-words! what are you?

Words no more, for hearken and see,

My song is there in the open air, and I must sing,

With the banner and pennant a-flapping.

I'll weave the chord and twine in,

Man's desire and babe's desire, I'll twine them in, I'll put in life,

I'll put the bayonet's flashing point, I'll let bullets and slugs whizz,

(As one carrying a symbol and menace far into the future,

Crying with trumpet voice, Arouse and beware! Beware and

I'll pour the verse with streams of blood, full of volition, full of joy,

Then loosen, launch forth, to go and compete,

With the banner and pennant a-flapping.


Come up here, bard, bard,

Come up here, soul, soul,

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Come up here, dear little child,

To fly in the clouds and winds with me, and play with the measure-
less light.


Father what is that in the sky beckoning to me with long finger?

And what does it say to me all the while?


Nothing my babe you see in the sky,

And nothing at all to you it says—but look you my babe,

Look at these dazzling things in the houses, and see you the
money-shops opening,

And see you the vehicles preparing to crawl along the streets with

These, ah these, how valued and toil'd for these!

How envied by all the earth.


Fresh and rosy red the sun is mounting high,

On floats the sea in distant blue careering through its channels,

On floats the wind over the breast of thesea setting in toward

The great steady wind from west or west-by-south,

Floating so buoyant with milk-white foam on the waters.

But I am not the sea nor the red sun,

I am not the wind with girlish laughter,

Not the immense wind which strengthens, not the wind which

Not the spirit that ever lashes its own body to terror and death,

But I am that which unseen comes and sings, sings, sings,

Which babbles in brooks and scoots in showers on the land,

Which the birds know in the woods mornings and evenings,

And the shore-sands know and the hissing wave, and that banner
and pennant,

Aloft there flapping and flapping.


O father it is alive—it is full of people—it has children,

O now it seems to me it is talking to its children,

I hear it—it talks to me—O it is wonderful!

O it stretches—it spreads and runs so fast—O my father,

It is so broad it covers the whole sky.

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Cease, cease, my foolish babe,

What you are saying is sorrowful to me, much it displeases me;

Behold with the rest again I say, behold not banners and pennants

But the well-prepared pavements behold, and mark the solid-wall'd

Banner and Pennant.

Speak to the child O bard out of Manhattan,

To our children all, or north or south of Manhattan,

Point this day, leaving all the rest, to us over all—and yet we
know not why,

For what are we, mere strips of cloth profiting nothing,

Only flapping in the wind?


I hear and see not strips of cloth alone,

I hear the tramp of armies, I hear the challenging sentry,

I hear the jubilant shouts of millions of men, I hear Liberty!

I hear the drums beat and the trumpets blowing,

I myself move abroad swift-rising flying then,

I use the wings of the land-bird and use the wings of the sea-bird,
and look down as from a height,

I do not deny the precious results of peace, I see populous cities
with wealth incalculable,

I see numberless farms, I see the farmers working in their fields
or barns,

I see mechanics working, I see buildings everywhere founded,
going up, or finish'd,

I see trains of cars swiftly speeding along railroad tracks drawn
by the locomotives,

I see the stores, depots, of Boston, Baltimore, Charleston, New

I see far in the West the immense area of grain, I dwell awhile

I pass to the lumber forests of the North, and again to the South-
ern plantation, and again to California;

Sweeping the whole I see the countless profit, the busy gatherings,
earn'd wages,

See the Identity formed out of thirty-eight spacious and haughty
States, (and many more to come,)

See forts on the shores of harbors, see ships sailing in and out;

Then over all, (aye! aye!) my little and lengthen'd pennant
shaped like a sword,

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Runs swiftly up indicating war and defiance—and now the hal-
yards have rais'd it,

Side of my banner broad and blue, side of my starry banner,

Discarding peace over all the sea and land.

Banner and Pennant.

Yet louder, higher, stronger, bard! yet farther, wider cleave!

No longer let our children deem us riches and peace alone,

We may be terror and carnage, and are so now,

Not now are we any one of these spacious and haughty States,
(nor any five, nor ten,)

Nor market nor depot we, nor money-bank in the city,

But these and all, and the brown and spreading land, and the
mines below, are ours,

And the shores of the sea are ours, and the rivers great and small,

And the fields they moisten, and the crops and the fruits are ours,

Bays and channels and ships sailing in and out are ours—while
we over all,

Over the area spread below, the three or four millions of square
miles, the capitals,

The forty millions of people,—O bard! in life and death supreme,

We, even we, henceforth flaunt out masterful, high up above,

Not for the present alone, for a thousand years chanting through

This song to the soul of one poor little child.


O my father I like not the houses,

They will never to me be any thing, nor do I like money,

But to mount up there I would like, O father dear, that banner I

That pennant I would be and must be.


Child of mine you fill me with anguish,

To be that pennant would be too fearful,

Little you know what it is this day, and after this day, forever,

It is to gain nothing, but risk and defy every thing,

Forward to stand in front of wars—and O, such wars!—what
have you to do with them?

With passions of demons, slaughter, premature death?


Demons and death then I sing,

Put in all, aye all will I, sword-shaped pennant for war,

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And a pleasure new and ecstatic, and the prattled yearning of

Blent with the sounds of the peaceful land and the liquid wash
of the sea,

And the black ships fighting on the sea envelop'd in smoke,

And the icy cool of the far, far north, with rustling cedars and

And the whirr of drums and the sound of soldiers marching, and
the hot sun shining south,

And the beach-waves combing over the beach on my Eastern
shore, and my Western shore the same,

And all between those shores, and my ever running Mississippi
with bends and chutes,

And my Illinois fields, and my Kansas fields, and my fields of

The Continent, devoting the whole identity without reserving an

Pour in! whelm that which asks, which sings, with all and the
yield of all,

Fusing and holding, claiming, devouring the whole,

No more with tender lip, nor musical labial sound,

But out of the night emerging for good, our voice persuasive no

Croaking like crows here in the wind.


My limbs, my veins dilate, my theme is clear at last,

Banner so broad advancing out of the night, I sing you haughty
and resolute,

I burst through where I waited long, too long, deafen'd and

My hearing and tongue are come to me, (a little child taught me,)

I hear from above O pennant of war your ironical call and demand,

Insensate! insensate! (yet I at any rate chant you,) O banner!

Not houses of peace indeed are you, nor any nor all their pros-
perity, (if need be, you shall again have every one of those
houses to destroy them,

You thought not to destroy those valuable houses, standing fast,
full of comfort, built with money,

May they stand fast, then? not an hour except you above them
and all stand fast;)

O banner, not money so precious are you, not farm produce you,
nor the material good nutriment,

Nor excellent stores, nor landed on wharves from the ships,

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Not the superb ships with sail-power or steam-power, fetching and
carrying cargoes,

Nor machinery, vehicles, trade, nor revenues—but you as hence-
forth I see you,

Running up out of the night, bringing your cluster of stars, (ever-
enlarging stars,)

Divider of daybreak you, cutting the air, touch'd by the sun,
measuring the sky,

(Passionately seen and yearn'd for by one poor little child,

While others remain busy or smartly talking, forever teaching
thrift, thrift;)

O you up there! O pennant! where you undulate like a snake
hissing so curious,

Out of reach, an idea only, yet furiously fought for, risking bloody
death, loved by me,

So loved—O you banner leading the day with stars brought from
the night!

Valueless, object of eyes, over all and demanding all—(absolute
owner of all)—O banner and pennant!

I too leave the rest—great as it is, it is nothing—houses,
machines are nothing—I see them not,

I see but you, O warlike pennant! O banner so broad, with stripes,
I sing you only,

Flapping up there in the wind.



RISE O days from your fathomless deeps, till you loftier, fiercer

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

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

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

I heard the wind piping, I saw the black clouds,

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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 lightning,

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 me,

Yet there with my soul I fed, I fed content, supercilious.


'Twas well, O soul—'twas a good preparation you gave me,

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

Something for us is pouring now more than Niagara pouring,

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 clouds?

Lo! from deeps more unfathomable, something more deadly and

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 dashes!

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 lightning!

(Yet a mournful wail and low sob I fancied I heard through the

In a lull of the deafening confusion.)


Thunder on! stride on, Democracy! strike with vengeful stroke!

And do you rise higher than ever yet O days, O cities!

Crash heavier, heavier yet O storms! you have done me good,

My soul prepared in the mountains absorbs your immortal strong

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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,

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

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 glutted,

I have witness'd the true lightning, I have witness'd my cities

I have lived to behold man burst forth and warlike America rise,

Hence I will seek no more the food of the northern solitary wilds,

No more the mountains roam or sail the stormy sea.


THE noble sire fallen on evil days,

I saw with hand uplifted, menacing, brandishing,

(Memories of old in abeyance, love and faith in abeyance,)

The insane knife toward the Mother of All.

The noble son on sinewy feet advancing,

I saw, out of the land of prairies, land of Ohio's waters and of

To the rescue the stalwart giant hurry his plenteous offspring,

Drest in blue, bearing their trusty rifles on their shoulders.

Then the Mother of All with calm voice speaking,

As to you Rebellious, (I seemed to hear her say,) why strive
against me, and why seek my life?

When you yourself forever provide to defend me?

For you provided me Washington—and now these also.


CITY of ships!

(O the black ships! O the fierce ships!

O the beautiful sharp-bow'd steam-ships and sail-ships!)

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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 marble and

Proud and passionate city—mettlesome, mad, extravagant city!

Spring up O city—not for peace alone, but be indeed yourself,

Fear not—submit to no models but your own O city!

Behold me—incarnate me as I have incarnated you!

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 con-
demn any thing,

I chant and celebrate all that is yours—yet peace no more,

In peace I chanted peace, but now the drum of war is mine,

War, red war is my song through your streets, O city!


Volunteer of 1861-2, (at Washington Park, Brooklyn, assisting the Centenarian.)

GIVE me your hand old Revolutionary,

The hill-top is nigh, but a few steps, (make room gentlemen,)

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 done,

Your faculties serve you, and presently I must have them serve me.

Rest, 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 their orders?

Do you hear the clank of the muskets?

Why what comes over you now old man?

Why do you tremble and clutch my hand so convulsively?

The troops are but drilling, they are yet surrounded with smiles,

Around them at hand the well-drest friends and the women,

While splendid and warm the afternoon sun shines down,

Green the midsummer verdure and fresh blows the dallying

O'er proud and peaceful cities and arm of the sea between.

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But drill and parade are over, they march back to quarters,

Only hear that approval of hands! hear what a clapping!

As wending the crowds now part and disperse—but we old man,

Not for nothing have I brought you hither—we must remain,

You to speak in your turn, and I to listen and tell.

The Centenarian.

When 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 hilltop, this same ground.

Aye, this is the ground,

My blind eyes even as I speak behold it re-peopled from graves,

The years recede, pavements and stately houses disappear,

Rude forts appear again, the old hoop'd guns are mounted,

I see the lines of rais'd earth stretching from river to bay,

I mark the vista of waters, I mark the uplands and slopes;

Here we lay encamp'd, it was this time in summer also.

As I talk I remember all, I remember the Declaration,

It was read here, the whole army paraded, it was read to us here,

By his staff surrounded the General stood in the middle, he held
up his unsheath'd sword,

It glitter'd in the sun in full sight of the army.

'Twas a bold act then—the English war-ships had just arrived,

We could watch down the lower bay where they lay at anchor,

And the transports swarming with soldiers.

A few days more and they landed, and then the battle.

Twenty thousand were brought against us,

A veteran force furnish'd with good artillery.

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I 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 well it stood confronting death.

Who do you think that was marching steadily sternly confronting

It was the brigade of the youngest men, two thousand strong,

Rais'd in Virginia and Maryland, and most of them known per-
sonally to the General.

Jauntily 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, rounding in from the east, fiercely playing
their guns,

That brigade of the youngest was cut off and at the enemy's mercy.

The General watch'd them from this hill,

They made repeated desperate attempts to burst their environment,

Then drew close together, very compact, their flag flying in the

But O from the hills how the cannon were thinning and thinning

It sickens me yet, that slaughter!

I saw the moisture gather in drops on the face of the General.

I saw how he wrung his hands in anguish.

Meanwhile the British manoeuvr'd to draw us out for a pitch'd

But we dared not trust the chances of a pitch'd battle.

We 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.

That was the going out of the brigade of the youngest men, two
thousand strong,

Few return'd, nearly all remain in Brooklyn.

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That and here my General's first battle,

No women looking on nor sunshine to bask in, it did not conclude
with applause,

Nobody clapp'd hands here then.

But in darkness in mist on the ground under a chill rain,

Wearied that night we lay foil'd and sullen,

While scornfully laugh'd many an arrogant lord off against us

Quite within hearing, feasting, clinking wineglasses together over
their victory.

So 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.

I saw him at the river-side,

Down by the ferry lit by torches, hastening the embarcation;

My General waited till the soldiers and wounded were all pass'd

And then, (it was just ere sunrise,) these eyes rested on him for
the last time.

Every one else seem'd fill'd with gloom,

Many no doubt thought of capitulation.

But when my General pass'd me,

As he stood in his boat and look'd toward the coming sun,

I saw something different from capitulation.


Enough, 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

And is this the ground Washington trod?

And these waters I listlessly daily cross, are these the waters he

As resolute in defeat as other generals in their proudest triumphs?

I must copy the story, and send it eastward and westward,

I must preserve that look as it beam'd on you rivers of Brooklyn.

See—as the annual round returns the phantoms return,

It is the 27th of August and the British have landed,

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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 inter-
cept the enemy,

They are cut off, murderous artillery from the hills plays upon

Rank after rank falls, while over them silently droops the flag,

Baptized that day in many a young man's bloody wounds,

In death, defeat, and sisters', mothers' tears.

Ah, hills and slopes of Brooklyn! I perceive you are more valuable
than your owners supposed;

In the midst of you stands an encampment very old,

Stands forever the camp of that dead brigade.


A LINE in long array where they wind betwixt green islands,

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

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

Scarlet and blue and snowy white,

The guidon flags flutter gayly in the wind.


I SEE before me now a traveling army halting,

Below a fertile valley spread, with barns and the orchards of

Behind, the terraced sides of a mountain, abrupt, in places rising

Broken, with rocks, with clinging cedars, with tall shapes dingily

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,

And over all the sky—the sky! far, far out of reach, studded,
breaking out, the eternal stars.

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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

Glittering dimly, toiling under the sun—the dust-cover'd men,

In columns rise and fall to the undulations of the ground,

With artillery interspers'd—the wheels rumble, the horses sweat,

As the army corps advances.


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

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 lift my eyes they seem to be stealthily
watching me,)

While wind in procession thoughts, O tender and wondrous

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 ground,

By the bivouac's fitful flame.


COME 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

Lo, '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

(Smell you the smell of the grapes on the vines?

Smell you the buckwheat where the bees were lately buzzing?)

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Above 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

Down 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.

Fast as she can she hurries, something ominous, her steps

She does not tarry to smooth her hair nor adjust her cap.

Open the envelope quickly,

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, gunshot wound in the breast, cavalry skirmish,
taken to hospital,

At present low, but will soon be better.

Ah 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.

Grieve not so, dear mother, (the just-grown daughter speaks
through her sobs,

The little sisters huddle around speechless and dismay'd,)

See, dearest mother, the letter says Pete will soon be better.

Alas 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 already,

The only son is dead.

But 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

In the midnight waking, weeping, longing with one deep longing,

O that she might withdraw unnoticed, silent from life escape and

To follow, to seek, to be with her dear dead son.

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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 battle,

Till late in the night reliev'd to the place at last again I made my

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

As onward silently stars aloft, eastward new ones upward stole,

Vigil final for you brave boy, (I could not save you, swift was your

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

My comrade I wrapt in his blanket, envelop'd well his form,

Folded the blanket well, tucking it carefully over head and care-
fully under feet,

And there and then and bathed by the rising sun, my son in his
grave, in his rude-dug grave I deposited,

Ending my vigil strange with that, vigil of night and battle-field

Vigil for boy of responding kisses, (never again on earth

Vigil for comrade swiftly slain, vigil I never forget, how as day

I rose from the chill ground and folded my soldier well in his

And buried him where he fell.

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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 retreating,

Till after midnight glimmer upon us the lights of a dim-lighted

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, now an impromptu

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

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,

At my feet more distinctly a soldier, a mere lad, in danger of
bleeding to death, (he is shot in the abdomen,)

I stanch 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, 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

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

Resuming, marching, ever in darkness marching, on in the ranks,

The unknown road still marching.

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A SIGHT in camp in the daybreak gray 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

Three forms I see on stretchers lying, brought out there untended

Over each the blanket spread, ample brownish woolen blanket,

Gray and heavy blanket, folding, covering all.

Curious 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-gray'd
hair, and flesh all sunken about the eyes?

Who are you my dear comrade?

Then to the second I step—and who are you my child and

Who are you sweet boy with cheeks yet blooming?

Then 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 is the face
of the Christ himself,

Dead and divine and brother of all, and here again he lies.


AS toilsome I wander'd Virginia's woods,

To the music of rustling leaves kick'd by my feet, (for 'twas

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.

Long, long I muse, then on my way go wandering,

Many a changeful season to follow, and many a scene of life,

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Yet at times through changeful season and scene, abrupt, alone,
or in the crowded street,

Comes before me the unknown soldier's grave, comes the inscrip-
tion rude in Virginia's woods,

Bold, cautious, true, and my loving comrade.


NOT the pilot has charged himself to bring his ship into port,
though beaten back and many times baffled;

Not the pathfinder penetrating inland weary and long,

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 com-
pose a march for these States,

For a battle-call, rousing to arms if need be, years, centuries


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 me,

Must I change my triumphant songs? said I to myself,

Must I indeed learn to chant the cold dirges of the baffled?

And sullen hymns of defeat?



AN old man bending I come among new faces,

Years looking backward resuming in answer to children,

Come tell us old man, as from young men and maidens that love

(Arous'd and angry, I'd thought to beat the alarum, and urge
relentless war,

But soon my fingers fail'd me, my face droop'd and I resign'd

To sit by the wounded and soothe them, or silently watch the

Years hence of these scenes, of these furious passions, these

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Of unsurpass'd heroes, (was one side so brave? the other was
equally brave;)

Now be witness again, paint the mightiest armies of earth,

Of those armies so rapid so wondrous what saw you to tell us?

What stays with you latest and deepest? of curious panics,

Of hard-fought engagements or sieges tremendous what deepest


O 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

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

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.)

But in silence, in dreams' projections,

While the world of gain and appearance and mirth goes on,

So soon what is over forgotten, and waves wash the imprints off
the sand,

With hinged knees returning I enter the doors, (while for you up

Whoever you are, follow without noise and be of strong heart.)

Bearing the bandages, water and sponge,

Straight and swift to my wounded I go,

Where they lie on the ground after the battle brought in,

Where their priceless blood reddens the grass the ground,

Or to the rows of the hospital tent, or under the roof'd hospital,

To the long rows of cots up and down each side I return,

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

I onward go, I stop,

With hinged knees and steady hand to dress wounds,

I am firm with each, the pangs are sharp yet unavoidable,

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One turns to me his appealing eyes—poor boy! I never knew

Yet I think I could not refuse this moment to die for you, if that
would save you.


On, on I go, (open doors of time! open hospital doors!)

The crush'd head I dress, (poor crazed hand tear not the bandage

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.)

From 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.

I 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.

I dress the perforated shoulder, the foot with the bullet-wound,

Cleanse the one with a gnawing and putrid gangrene, so sicken-
ing, so offensive,

While the attendant stands behind aside me holding the tray and

I am faithful, I do not give out,

The fractur'd thigh, the knee, the wound in the abdomen,

These and more I dress with impassive hand, (yet deep in my
breast a fire, a burning flame.)


Thus in silence in dreams' projections,

Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals,

The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand,

I sit by the restless all the dark night, some are so young,

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Some suffer so much, I recall the experience sweet and sad,

(Many a soldier's loving arms about this neck have cross'd and

Many a soldier's kiss dwells on these bearded lips.)


LONG, too long America,

Traveling roads all even and peaceful you learn'd from joys and
prosperity only,

But now, ah now, to learn from crises of anguish, advancing, grap-
pling with direst fate and recoiling not,

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-dazzling,

Give me juicy autumnal fruit ripe and red from the orchard,

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 stars,

Give me odorous at sunrise a garden of beautiful flowers 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 recluse by myself, for my
own ears only,

Give me solitude, give me Nature, give me again O Nature your
primal sanities!

These demanding to have them, (tired with ceaseless 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,

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Day upon day and year upon year O city, walking your streets,

Where you hold me enchain'd a certain time refusing to give me

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

Keep your fields of clover and timothy, and your corn-fields and

Keep the blossoming buckwheat fields where the Ninth-month
bees hum;

Give me faces and streets—give me these phantoms incessant
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 Manhattan!

Give me Broadway, with the soldiers marching—give me the
sound of the trumpets and drums!

(The soldiers in companies or regiments—some starting away,
flush'd and reckless,

Some, their time up, returning with thinn'd ranks, young, yet very
old, worn, marching, noticing nothing;)

Give me the shores and wharves heavy-fringed with black

O such for me! O an intense life, 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
torchlight procession!

The dense brigade bound for the war, with high piled military
wagons following;

People, endless, streaming, with strong voices, passions, pageants,

Manhattan streets with their powerful throbs, with 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!

Manhattan faces and eyes forever for me.

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   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,

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 daylight 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!

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