by James Whitcomb Riley
Sir Launcelot rode overthwart and endlong in a wide forest, and held no
path but as wild adventure led him... And he returned and came again to his
horse, and took off his saddle and his bridle, and let him pasture; and
unlaced his helm, and ungirdled his sword, and laid him down to sleep upon
his shield before the cross. --Age of Chivalary
What shall we say of the soldier. Grant,
His sword put by and his great soul free?
How shall we cheer him now or chant
His requiem befittingly?
The fields of his conquest now are seen
Ranged no more with his armed men--
But the rank and file of the gold and green
Of the waving grain is there again.
Though his valiant life is a nation's pride,
And his death heroic and half divine,
And our grief as great as the world is wide,
There breaks in speech but a single line--:
We loved him living, revere him dead--!
A silence then on our lips is laid:
We can say no thing that has not been said,
Nor pray one prayer that has not been prayed.
But a spirit within us speaks: and lo,
We lean and listen to wondrous words
That have a sound as of winds that blow,
And the voice of waters and low of herds;
And we hear, as the song flows on serene,
The neigh of horses, and then the beat
Of hooves that skurry o'er pastures green,
And the patter and pad of a boy's bare feet.
A brave lad, wearing a manly brow,
Knit as with problems of grave dispute,
And a face, like the bloom of the orchard bough,
Pink and pallid, but resolute;
And flushed it grows as the clover-bloom,
And fresh it gleams as the morning dew,
As he reins his steed where the quick quails boom
Up from the grasses he races through.
And ho! As he rides what dreams are his?
And what have the breezes to suggest--?
Do they whisper to him of shells that whiz
O'er fields made ruddy with wrongs redressed?
Does the hawk above him an Eagle float?
Does he thrill and his boyish heart beat high,
Hearing the ribbon about his throat
Flap as a Flag as the winds go by?
And does he dream of the Warrior's fame--
This Western boy in his rustic dress?
For in miniature, this is the man that came
Riding out of the Wilderness--!
The selfsame figure-- the knitted brow--
The eyes full steady-- the lips full mute--
And the face, like the bloom of the orchard bough,
Pink and pallid, but resolute.
Ay, this is the man, with features grim
And stoical as the Sphinx's own,
That heard the harsh guns calling him,
As musical as the bugle blown,
When the sweet spring heavens were clouded o'er
With a tempest, glowering and wild,
And our country's flag bowed down before
Its bursting wrath as a stricken child.
Thus, ready mounted and booted and spurred,
He loosed his bridle and dashed away--!
Like a roll of drums were his hoof-beats heard,
Like the shriek of the fife his charger's neigh!
And over his shoulder and backward blown,
We heard his voice, and we saw the sod
Reel, as our wild steeds chased his own
As though hurled on by the hand of God!
And still, in fancy, we see him ride
In the blood-red front of a hundred frays,
His face set stolid, but glorified
As a knight's of the old Arthurian days:
And victor ever as courtly too,
Gently lifting the vanquished foe,
And staying him with a hand as true
As dealt the deadly avenging blow.
So brighter than all of the cluster of stars
Of the flag enshrouding his form to-day,
His face shines forth from the grime of wars
With a glory that shall not pass away:
He rests at last: he has borne his part
Of salutes and salvos and cheers on cheers--
But O the sobs of his country's heart,
And the driving rain of a nations tears!
Last updated January 14, 2019