For The Commemoration Services by Oliver Wendell Holmes

CAMBRIDGE, JULY 21, 1865

FOUR summers coined their golden light in leaves,
Four wasteful autumns flung them to the gale,
Four winters wore the shroud the tempest weaves,
The fourth wan April weeps o’er hill and vale;

And still the war-clouds scowl on sea and land,
With the red gleams of battle staining through,
When lo! as parted by an angel’s hand,
They open, and the heavens again are blue!

Which is the dream, the present or the past?
The night of anguish or the joyous morn?
The long, long years with horrors overcast,
Or the sweet promise of the day new-born?

Tell us, O father, as thine arms infold
Thy belted first-born in their fast embrace,
Murmuring the prayer the patriarch breathed of old,–
“Now let me die, for I have seen thy face!”

Tell us, O mother,–nay, thou canst not speak,
But thy fond eyes shall answer, brimmed with joy,–
Press thy mute lips against the sunbrowned cheek,
Is this a phantom,–thy returning boy?

Tell us, O maiden,–ah, what canst thou tell
That Nature’s record is not first to teach,–
The open volume all can read so well,
With its twin rose-hued pages full of speech?

And ye who mourn your dead,–how sternly true
The crushing hour that wrenched their lives away,
Shadowed with sorrow’s midnight veil for you,
For them the dawning of immortal day!

Dream-like these years of conflict, not a dream!
Death, ruin, ashes tell the awful tale,
Read by the flaming war-track’s lurid gleam
No dream, but truth that turns the nations pale.

For on the pillar raised by martyr hands
Burns the rekindled beacon of the right,

Sowing its seeds of fire o’er all the lands,–
Thrones look a century older in its light!

Rome had her triumphs; round the conqueror’s car
The ensigns waved, the brazen clarions blew,
And o’er the reeking spoils of bandit war
With outspread wings the cruel eagles flew;

Arms, treasures, captives, kings in clanking chains
Urged on by trampling cohorts bronzed and scarred,
And wild-eyed wonders snared on Lybian plains,
Lion and ostrich and camelopard.

Vain all that praetors clutched, that consuls brought
When Rome’s returning legions crowned their lord;
Less than the least brave deed these hands have wrought,
We clasp, unclinching from the bloody sword.

Theirs was the mighty work that seers foretold;
They know not half their glorious toil has won,
For this is Heaven’s same battle,-joined of old
When Athens fought for us at Marathon!

Behold a vision none hath understood!
The breaking of the Apocalyptic seal;
Twice rings the summons.–Hail and fire and blood!
Then the third angel blows his trumpet-peal.

Loud wail the dwellers on the myrtled coasts,
The green savannas swell the maddened cry,
And with a yell from all the demon hosts
Falls the great star called Wormwood from the sky!

Bitter it mingles with the poisoned flow
Of the warm rivers winding to the shore,
Thousands must drink the waves of death and woe,
But the star Wormwood stains the heavens no more!

Peace smiles at last; the Nation calls her sons
To sheathe the sword; her battle-flag she furls,
Speaks in glad thunders from unspotted guns,
No terror shrouded in the smoke-wreath’s curls.

O ye that fought for Freedom, living, dead,
One sacred host of God’s anointed Queen,
For every holy, drop your veins have shed
We breathe a welcome to our bowers of green!

Welcome, ye living! from the foeman’s gripe
Your country’s banner it was yours to wrest,–
Ah, many a forehead shows the banner-stripe,
And stars, once crimson, hallow many a breast.

And ye, pale heroes, who from glory’s bed
Mark when your old battalions form in line,
Move in their marching ranks with noiseless tread,
And shape unheard the evening countersign,

Come with your comrades, the returning brave;
Shoulder to shoulder they await you here;
These lent the life their martyr-brothers gave,–
Living and dead alike forever dear!

Leave a Reply 0

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *