The Battle Summers

Again the glory of the days!
    Once more the dreamy sunshine fills
    Noon after noon,—and all the hills
Lie soft and dim in autumn haze.

And lovely lie these meadows low
    In the slant sun—and quiet broods
    Above the splendor of the woods
All touched with autumn’s tenderest glow.

The trees stand marshalled, clan by clan,
    A bannered army, far and near—
    (Mark how yon fiery maples rear
Their crimson colors in the van!)

Methinks, these ancient haunts among,
    A fuller life informs the fall—
    The crows in council sit and call,
The quail through stubble leads her young.

The woodcocks whirrs by bush and brake,
    The partridge plies his cedar-search—
    (Old Andy says the trout and perch
Are larger now, in stream and lake.)

O’re the brown leaves, the forest floor,
    With nut and acorn scantly strewed,
    The small red people of the wood
Are out to seek their winter store.

To-day they gather, each and all,
    To take their last of autumn suns—
    E’en the gray squirrel lithely runs
Along the mossy pasture wall.

By marsh and brook, by copse and hill,
    To their old quiet haunts repair
    The feeble things of earth and air,
And feed and flutter at their will.

the feet that roved this woodland round,
    The hands that scared the timid race,
    Now middle in a mightier chase,
Or mould on that great Hunting-Ground

Strange calm and peace!—ah, who could deem,
    By this still glen, this lone hill-side,
    How three long summers, in their pride,
Have smiled above that awful Dream?—

Have ever woven a braver green,
    And ever arched a lovelier blue
    Yet nature, in her every hue,
Took color from the dread Unseen.

The haze of Indian Summer seemed
    Borne from far fields of sulphury breath—
    A subtile atmosphere of death
Was ever round us as we dreamed.

The horizon’s dim heat-lightning played
    Like small-arms, still, through nights of drouht,
    And the low thunder of the south
Was dull and distant cannonade.

To us the glory of the gray
    Had still a stranger, stormier dye,
    Remember how we watched the sky
Of many a waning battle day,

O’er many a field of lass or fame—
    How Shiloh’s eve to ashes turned,
    And how Manassas’ sunset burned
Incarnadine of blood and flame.

And how, in thunder, day by day,
    The hot sky hanging over all,
    Beneath that sullen, lurid pall,
The Week of Battles rolled away!

Give me my legions!—so, in grief,
    Like him of Rome, our Father cried—
    (A Nation’s Flower lay down and died
In yon fell shade!)—ah, hapless chief—

Too late we learned thy star!—o’erta’en,
    (Of error or of fate o’erharsh,)
    Like Varus, in the fatal marsh
Where skill and valor all were vain!

All vain—Fair Oaks and Seven Pines!
   A deeper hue than dying Fall
    May lend, is yours!——yet over all
The mild Virginian autumn shines.

And still a Nation’s Heart o’erhung
    The iron echoes pealed afar,
    Along a thousand leagues of war
The battle thunders tossed and flung.

Till, when our fortunes paled the most,
    And Hope had half forgot to wave,
    Her banner o’er the wearied brave—
A morning saw the traitor host

Rolled back o’er red Potomac’s wave,
    And the Great River burst his way!—
    And all on that dear Summer’s Day
Day that our fathers died and gave.

Rest in thy calm, Eternal Right!
    For thee, though levin-scarred and torn,
    Through flame and death shall still be borne
The Red, the Azure, and the White.

We pass—we sink like summer’s snow—
    Yet on the might Cause shall move,
    Though every field a Cannæ prove,
And every pass a Roncesvaux.

Though every summer burn anew
    A battle-summer—though each day
    We bane a new Aceldama,
Or some dry Golgotha re-dew.

And thou, in lonely dream withdrawn!
    What dost thou, while in tempest dies
    The long drear Night, and all the skies
Are red with Freedom’s fiery Dawn!

Behold, thy summer days are o’er—
    Yet dearer, lovelier these that fall
    Wrapped in red autumn’s flag, than all
The green and glory gone before.

’Twas well to sing by stream and sod,
    And they there were that loved thy lays—
    But lo, where, ’neath yon battle-haze,
Thy brothers bare the breast of God!

Reck not of waning force nor breath—
    Some little aid may yet be thine,
    Some honor to the All-Divine,—
To-day, where, by yon River of Death,

His stars on Rosecrans look down—
    Or, on the morrow, by moat and wall,
    Once more when the Great Admiral
Thunder on traitor fleet and town.

O wearied heart! O darkening eye!
    (How long to hope and trust untrue!)
    What in the hurly can ye do?
Little, ’tis like—yet we can die.

This poem is in the public domain.