When late I sang sad was my voice,
A thick gloom fell through the sunshine and darken’d me.
But now the war, the war is over, the field is clear’d,
The struggle of blood finish’d, the price is paid,
The wildest and bloodiest is over, and all is peace,
The far-stretching circuits and vistas again to peace restored.
As I mused of these warlike days and of peace return’d, and the dead that return no more,
A phantom with stern visage accosted me,
Chant me the poem, it said, chant me the carol of victory,
I hear victorious drums,
Sound with trumpet-voice the proud victory.
But it is best for you to be prepared for something different:
O captain! my captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won—
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead,
No more for him life’s stormy conflicts,
Nor victory, nor defeat.
The releas’d prisoners of war are now coming—
Can those be men, those little livid brown, ash-streak’d, monkey-looking dwarfs? Are they really not mummied, dwindled corpses? They lay there, most of them, quite still, but with a horrible look in their eyes. Probably no more appalling sight was ever seen on this earth. (There are deeds, crimes, that may be forgiven; but this is not among them. It steeps its perpetrators in blackest, escapeless, endless damnation.)
Will the America of the future ever realize what itself cost back there, after all?
Has anyone thought what a measureless history there holds in the crumbling contents of trenches,
In countless graves, victor’s and vanquish’d, receding, mellowing,
The dust of each fused in the dust of each?
Of many thousands of unknown heroisms, impromptu, first-class desperations, who tells?
The camp, the drill, the lines of sentries, the prisons, the hospitals——all have passed away—all seem now like a dream,
Long have they pass’d, faces and trenches and fields.
The fervid atmosphere and events of those years are in danger of being totally forgotten,
No history ever—no poem sings, no music sounds, those deeds.
Everywhere among these countless graves—in the vast trenches, the depositories of slain—we see, and ages yet may see, on monuments and gravestones, singly or in masses, to thousands or tens of thousands, the significant word unknown.
Think how much, and of importance, will be buried in the grave, in eternal darkness.
The real war will never get in the books, its minutiæ of deeds and passions will never be even suggested,
The interior history will never be written;
Future years will never know the seething hell and the black infernal background of countless minor scenes and interiors of the war.
The actual soldier, with all his ways, habits, practices, tastes, language, his incredible dauntlessness, his fierce friendship, his appetite, rankness, superb strength and animality, lawless gait, and a hundred unnamed lights and shades of camp, I say, will never be written—perhaps must not and should not be—
Those forming the untold and unwritten history of the war, infinitely greater (like life’s) than the few scraps and distortions that are ever told or written.
Ashes of soldiers, as I muse retrospective murmuring a chant in thought,
Now when my soul is rapt and at peace,
The war resumes, again to my sense your shapes,
Your memories rising glide silently by me, invisible to the rest,
Again I see the stalwart ranks on-filing, rising.
O how the immortal phantoms crowd around me!
Admitting around me comrades close unseen by the rest and voiceless,
Phantoms of countless lost,
The unnamed lost ever present in my mind.
Sweet are the blooming cheeks of the living—sweet are the musical voices sounding,
But sweet, ah sweet, are the dead with their silent eyes.
One breath, O my silent soul, a perfum’d thought—
No more I ask, for the sake of all dead soldiers.
Give me to bathe the memories of all dead soldiers,
Shroud them, embalm them, cover them all over with tender pride.
Adieu dear comrade,
Your mission is fulfill’d.
As the Greek’s signal flame, by antique records told,
Rose from the hilltop, like applause and glory,
Welcoming in fame some special veteran, hero,
With rosy tinge reddening the land he’d served,
So I aloft lift high a kindled brand for thee.
I bind together and bequeath in this bundle of songs,
(My book and the war are one,)
A special verse for you, embalm’d with love—a flash of duty long neglected—
Remembrances of the war for you, with my love, in this twilight song.
I chant this chant of my silent soul in the name of the infinite dead:
Dearest comrades, all is over and long gone,
But love is not over—and what love, O comrades!
Henceforth become my companions,
Henceforth to be, deep, deep within my heart your mystic roll entire of unknown names,
You million unwrit names all, all—you dark bequest from all the war,
Each name recall’d by me from out the darkness and death’s ashes—
Follow me ever—desert me not while I live.
The bullet could never kill what you really are,
Nor the bayonet stab what you really are;
The soul! yourself I see, great as any, good as the best,
Waiting secure and content, which the bullet could never kill, nor the bayonet stab.
And so good-bye to the war—the war is over,
(Yet never over—
The last gun ceased, but the scent of the powder-smoke linger’d,
The hospitals—alas! alas! the hospitals!— fuller than ever,
There is every kind of wound, in every part of the body, and twice as many sick as wounded.)
As I walk these broad majestic days of peace,
While not the past forgetting,
I sing not war, I dwell not on soldiers’ perils or soldiers’ joys.
Away with themes of war!
Away with war itself!
Hush’d be the camps today,
Now sound no note O trumpeters,
Nothing from you this time O drummers bearing my warlike drums,
And soldiers let us drape our war-worn weapons,
Today, at least, contention sunk entire.
No more the sad, unnatural shows I knew of crimson war,
No more the dead and wounded,
Hence from my shuddering sight to never more return that show of blacken’d, mutilated corpses.
War and the passions of war pass on,
A young and lusty generation already sweeps in with oceanic currents, obliterating the war, and all its scars, its mounded graves, and all its reminiscences of hatred, conflict, death.
War and the angry fight pass,
War and the frantic tempers of men rage out their time and depart.
I have now removed the greatest bar that once stood between me and happiness; that was a fiery temper, swell’d like an overflowing torrent. I have lost that now.
I feel that if I should live a hundred years, they would be a hundred years without anger or revenge;
I could never think of myself as firing a gun or drawing a sword on another man.
Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage must in time be utterly lost,
That the hands of the sisters death and night incessantly softly wash again, and ever again, this soil’d world.
The passionate hot tears have ceased to flow,
Time has assuaged the anguish of the living,
Without hatred we all, all meet,
To sound of different, prouder songs, with stronger themes—
Reconciliation, word over all, beautiful as the sky,
Peace is always beautiful..
O sun of real peace! O hastening light!
O free and extatic! O what I here, preparing, warble for!
O the sun of the world will ascend, dazzling, and take his height—and you too, O my ideal, will surely ascend!
The mightier God, consolator most mild,
The promis’d one advancing, with gentle hand extended:
I am affection—I am the cheer-bringing God, with hope, and all-enclosing charity,
Conqueror yet—for before me all the armies and soldiers of the earth shall yet bow—and all the weapons of war become impotent.
My wisdom dies not, neither early nor late,
And my sweet love, bequeath’d here and elsewhere, never dies.
Lay on the graves of all dead soldiers,
Wreaths of roses and branches of palm,
Nor for the past alone—for meanings to the future,
Peace, brotherhood uprisen, lifted, illumin’d, bathed in peace—elate, secure in peace,
The spirit of peace, large, rich, thrifty, building populous towns, encouraging agriculture, arts, commerce, lighting the study of man, the soul, health, immortality, government.
I see the battle-fields—grass grows upon them, and blossoms and corn,
Orchard and yellow grain, cotton and rice,
The dead—their impalpable ashes’ exhalation in nature’s chemistry distill’d, and shall be so forever,
Perfume from battle-fields rising, up from the foetor arising,
The land entire saturated, perfumed with their impalpable ashes.
O love, fructify all with the last chemistry,
For the ashes of all dead soldiers.
Perfume all, O love, solve all,
Make these ashes to nourish and blossom, in every future grain of wheat and ear of corn, and every flower that grows, and every breath we draw.
Melt, melt away ye armies,
Resolve ye back again, give up for good your deadly arms,
Other the arms the fields henceforth for you,
With saner wars, sweet wars, life-giving wars.
I see the heroes at other toils, to plough, hoe, dig,
To plant and tend the tree, the berry, vegetables, flowers,
The true arenas of my race, or first or last,
Man’s innocent and strong arenas.
I see well-wielded in their hands the better weapons,
All emblematic of peace.
With these and else and with their own strong hands the heroes harvest.
Toil on heroes! harvest the products!
Toil on heroes! toil well! handle the weapons well!
Not there your victory on those red shuddering fields,
But here and hence your victory,
Now in camps of green, content and silent there at last,
There without hatred we all, all meet.
Of the war itself, immensest results are doubtless waiting yet unform’d in the future,
How long they will wait I cannot tell.
The war is long over—yet do not those putrid conditions, too many of them, still exist? still result in diseases, fevers, wounds—not of war and army hospitals—but the wounds and diseases of peace?
Then turn, and be not alarm’d O Libertad—turn your undying face,
To where the future, greater than all the past,
Is swiftly, surely preparing for you the wounds and diseases of peace,
Perhaps to engage in time in still more dreadful contests, dangers,
Denser wars, longer campaigns and crises, labors beyond all others.
The work, the need goes on and shall go on,
The death-envelop’d march of peace as well as war goes on.
Wert capable of war, its tug and trials? be capable of peace, its trials,
For the tug and mortal strain of nations come at last in prosperous peace, not war,
A task of peace more difficult than the war itself—
For great campaigns of peace the same the wiry threads to weave;
We know not why or what, yet weave, forever weave.
But I, more warlike, a war fight out—aye here, waged in my book—
A longer and greater one than any, the field the world.
A new soldier, bound for new campaigns, I also sing war,
And to fiercer, weightier battles give expression,
For life and death, for the body and for the eternal soul,
Shooting in pulses of fire ceaseless to vivify all.
Myself and this contentious soul of mine,
Still on our own campaigning bound,
War, peace, day and night absorbing,
Here marching, ever marching on,
Through untried roads, with ambushes, opponents lined,
Through many a sharp defeat and many a crisis, often baffled,
With varying fortune, with flight, advance and retreat, victory deferr’d and wavering,
(Yet methinks certain, or as good as certain, at the last,)
Lo, I too am come, chanting the chant of battles,
I above all promote brave soldiers.