Published on Academy of American Poets (

The Continental Army

            George Washington passes through Lyme, CT 10 April 1776

As I lifted the kettle from the hob,
I heard the sound of drums from far away.
I paused a moment. Then that hot water
got heavy. But I listened while I worked:
a steady rhythm, now and then a fife.
I washed, wiped and put the dishes away,
then dried my hands and hung up the dishrag.
Now I heard hoof beats and many men’s boots.
I took my shawl and stepped into the dusk.

Out front, a white man with golden shoulders
and a sandy pigtail sat a gray horse
as if they were one being longing to prance.
Most of the town was lined along the street
clapping and cheering. A white army marched,
black booted feet in perfect unison,
toward the church, in identical cocked hats,
white sashes, blue coats with silver buttons,
fawn weskits and breeches, and knee high boots.
They carried muskets fitted with bayonets.
Never had I seen such terrible power.

They marched to the cadence the drummer set,
left right left right left right, for many ranks.
Some of us gathered behind McCurdy’s house
whispering what we had heard and understood
of all this commotion. Zacheus swore
he saw some brothers among the soldiers.
The drummer they marched to brought up the rear.
We stood silenced when we saw his dark face.            


Copyright © by Marilyn Nelson. Used with permission of the author.


Marilyn Nelson

Born in 1946, Marilyn Nelson is the author of over eight books of poetry, as well as many collections of verse for children and young adults. She served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2013 to 2018.

Date Published: 2016-01-26

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