Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. VIII. National Spirit
Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume VIII. National Spirit.  1904.
III. War
The Closing Scene
Thomas Buchanan Read (1822–1872)
WITHIN the sober realm of leafless trees,
  The russet year inhaled the dreamy air;
Like some tanned reaper, in his hour of ease,
  When all the fields are lying brown and bare.
The gray barns looking from their hazy hills,        5
  O’er the dun waters widening in the vales,
Sent down the air a greeting to the mills
  On the dull thunder of alternate flails.
All sights were mellowed and all sounds subdued,
  The hills seemed further and the stream sang low,        10
As in a dream the distant woodman hewed
  His winter log with many a muffled blow.
The embattled forests, erewhile armed with gold,
  Their banners bright with every martial hue,
Now stood like some sad, beaten host of old,        15
  Withdrawn afar in Time’s remotest blue.
On slumb’rous wings the vulture held his flight;
  The dove scarce heard its sighing mate’s complaint;
And, like a star slow drowning in the light,
  The village church-vane seemed to pale and faint.        20
The sentinel-cock upon the hillside crew,—
  Crew thrice,—and all was stiller than before;
Silent, till some replying warden blew
  His alien horn, and then was heard no more.
Where erst the jay, within the elm’s tall crest,        25
  Made garrulous trouble round her unfledged young;
And where the oriole hung her swaying nest,
  By every light wind like a censer swung;—
Where sang the noisy martens of the eaves,
  The busy swallows circling ever near,—        30
Foreboding, as the rustic mind believes,
  An early harvest and a plenteous year;—
Where every bird which charmed the vernal feast
  Shook the sweet slumber from its wings at morn,
To warn the reaper of the rosy east:—        35
  All now was sunless, empty, and forlorn.
Alone from out the stubble piped the quail,
  And croaked the crow through all the dreamy gloom;
Alone the pheasant, drumming in the vale,
  Made echo to the distant cottage-loom.        40
There was no bud, no bloom upon the bowers;
  The spiders moved their thin shrouds night by night,
The thistle-down, the only ghost of flowers,
  Sailed slowly by,—passed noiseless out of sight.
Amid all this—in this most cheerless air,        45
  And where the woodbine shed upon the porch
Its crimson leaves, as if the Year stood there
  Firing the floor with his inverted torch,—
Amid all this, the centre of the scene,
  The white-haired matron with monotonous tread        50
Plied the swift wheel, and with her joyless mien
  Sat, like a fate, and watched the flying thread.
She had known Sorrow,—he had walked with her,
  Oft supped, and broke the bitter ashen crust;
And in the dead leaves still she heard the stir        55
  Of his black mantle trailing in the dust.
While yet her cheek was bright with summer bloom,
  Her country summoned and she gave her all;
And twice War bowed to her his sable plume,—
  Re-gave the swords to rust upon the wall.        60
Re-gave the swords, but not the hand that drew
  And struck for Liberty the dying blow;
Nor him who, to his sire and country true,
  Fell mid the ranks of the invading foe.
Long, but not loud, the droning wheel went on,        65
  Like the low murmur of a hive at noon;
Long, but not loud, the memory of the gone
  Breathed through her lips a sad and tremulous tune.
At last the thread was snapped; her head was bowed;
  Life dropt the distaff through his hands serene;        70
And loving neighbors smoothed her careful shroud,
  While Death and Winter closed the autumn scene.

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