The Veterans of the South
The Veterans of the South.
In my dreaming I stood by a towering shaft
Heavy hearted, subdued; it was midnight in June;
The mocking-birds sang, and the blithe crickets laughed
With joy in the glare of the Shimmering moon.
The voice of the town-clock its taint echoes rolled
O’er the valleys in slow, measured, quivering tones,
And me-thought’t was the knell of a Cause that it tolled
As I stood in the midst of the mound-covered bones.
I gazed on the words, “The Confederate Dead,”
In bas-relief carved on the towering tomb,
And as by the dubious radiance I read
In the hush of the midnight I heard the boom
Of battle afar in the tremulous air,
And I seemed to in hale the Sulphurous smoke,
And distinguished the dying’s wall of despair
From the victors’ shouts that the silence broke
Where Havoc in frenzy careered O’er the plain
With his lurid torch, and his blood-stained blade,
And I cowered, and trembled in terror and pain
‘Neath a dropping willow’s sorrowful shade
When a spectre arose from a neighboring grave
As a vapour exhaled from the mouldering clay,
And the aspect assumed of a valorous brave—
A skeleton clad in Confederate gray.
A Sentinel gaunt of grave-yard, he strode
Near the monument’s base, up and down—up and down;
On his gun the pale moon-beams capriciously glowed,
And the mock-birds and crickets were hushed at his frown.
I durst not retreat from the ghost-guarded place
Lest the spectre discern my endeavor to flee
By the glare from the moon’s iey gossiping face;
So I lay like one dead ‘neath the sheltering tree.
The town-clock with miserly stroke sounded time,
And stingily counted the minutes away,
Begruding each half-hearted, lingering chime
As I fervently prayed for the coming of day;
For I hoped that the sentinel dread might depart
Unwitting that mortal his vigil espied;
But thwarting this wish of my hungering heart
He paused at the willow and scornfully cried;
“Still dreaming with sighs of the buried and lost!
Still gazing with tears on inanimate stone!
On the ocean of sorrow despairing lost,
Though a fourth of a century’s cycles have flown
Since the roll of the drum and the thunders of war
Were hushed by the advent of truce-bearing Peace,
Which, back through Union’s doors standing ajar,
Led the States in revolt, and the quarrel bade cease!
If Your debt to the dead be not fully repaid
The ashes can wait, for they hear not your praise:
They regard not the garlands so lovingly spread,
Nor awake to the poet’s elegiac lays
They are chill, but require neither comfort nor heat;
They know not the anguish of hunger or cold;
They thrill not at epitaphs exquisite,
Nor triumph in cenotaphs builded with gold
Their fame neither column nor elegy builds;
No witness is needed to vouch for renown;
Like ether the space of the ages it fills
And rides on the wings of the centuries down.
Ye’ve erected and carved the memorial stone,
And laurelled the mounds o’er the spiritless dust;
Ye have spoken and sung of the victories won
By heroes who died in a cause they deemed just
But what of the living and languishing maimed
That hobble and stumble in difficult ways
Unhelped, unrewarded, (forgotten?) unclaimed
To the end of their wearisome, sorrowful days?
And the blind: do you lead them in mild, sunny ways
Where thorns may not wound them, and stones may not bruise?
Have you gathered them home in some blessed still place
Where they work if they will and repose if they choose?
And what of the mothers now shattered and old
Who unto death’s yawning and ravenous jaws
Devoted their sons, youthful, ardent and bold,
A gift above price, to the clamoring cause?
Oh, what of their querulous pitiful needs?
Who now upholdeth their tottering frames
Who now recalls their magnanimous deeds?
Where are they living? What are their names?
With a pathos and eloquence awful to hear
He spake, and then paused as if waiting reply;
But rigid, and staring and quaking with fear,
A stone was as potent to answer as I.
Which nothing, the spectre went earnestly on;
“For the cannibal fat on the blood or his race;
For the pagan abased to his idol of stone;
For the Irish, heart-broken, who wail o’er the seas;
For the black man exulting in shackleless hands
There are millions of precious American gold,
But naught for the vanquished Confederate band
Whose home-coming legend hath never told!
Oh South! there’s no national shepherd to keep
Your flock from the pinching of hunger and cold!
Hark! Hear you the wail of your suffering sheep
As they wander dejected away from the fold?”
The sentinel started; his monody ceased;
He seemed to consider was time to be gone;
For he hastily turned his white face to the East
As a far-distant cock gave the signal of dawn.
Then silent, and looking not backward, he strode
To the grave whence he came, as in dread of the morn;
And I marked as he sank in his dreadful abode,
His skeleton finger still pointing in scorn.
Then I woke and Perceived ‘twas a horrible dream
That had vexed and disturbed the repose of my bed;
But so vivid and clear did the interview seem,
That it wrought on my peace as a voice from the dead.