Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. IX. Tragedy: Humor
Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume IX. Tragedy: Humor.  1904.
Poems of Tragedy: XIII. America
The Drummer-Boy’s Burial
ALL day long the storm of battle through the startled valley swept;
All night long the stars in heaven o’er the slain sad vigils kept.
O, the ghastly upturned faces gleaming whitely through the night!
O, the heaps of mangled corses in that dim sepulchral light!
One by one the pale stars faded, and at length the morning broke;        5
But not one of all the sleepers on that field of death awoke.
Slowly passed the golden hours of that long bright summer day,
And upon that field of carnage still the dead unburied lay.
Lay there stark and cold, but pleading with a dumb, unceasing prayer,
For a little dust to hide them from the staring sun and air.        10
But the foeman held possession of that hard-won battle-plain,
In unholy wrath denying even burial to our slain.
Once again the night dropped round them,—night so holy and so calm
That the moonbeams hushed the spirit, like the sound of prayer or psalm.
On a couch of trampled grasses, just apart from all the rest,        15
Lay a fair young boy, with small hands meekly folded on his breast.
Death had touched him very gently, and he lay as if in sleep;
Even his mother scarce had shuddered at that slumber calm and deep.
For a smile of wondrous sweetness lent a radiance to the face,
And the hand of cunning sculptor could have added naught of grace        20
To the marble limbs so perfect in their passionless repose,
Robbed of all save matchless purity by hard, unpitying foes.
And the broken drum beside him all his life’s short story told:
How he did his duty bravely till the death-tide o’er him rolled.
Midnight came with ebon garments and a diadem of stars,        25
While right upward in the zenith hung the fiery planet Mars.
Hark! a sound of stealthy footsteps and of voices whispering low,
Was it nothing but the young leaves, or the brooklet’s murmuring flow?
Clinging closely to each other, striving never to look round
As they passed with silent shudder the pale corses on the ground,        30
Came two little maidens,—sisters, with a light and hasty tread,
And a look upon their faces, half of sorrow, half of dread.
And they did not pause nor falter till, with throbbing hearts, they stood
Where the drummer-boy was lying in that partial solitude.
They had brought some simple garments from their wardrobe’s scanty store,        35
And two heavy iron shovels in their slender hands they bore.
Then they quickly knelt beside him, crushing back the pitying tears,
For they had no time for weeping, nor for any girlish fears.
And they robed the icy body, while no glow of maiden shame
Changed the pallor of their foreheads to a flush of lambent flame.        40
For their saintly hearts yearned o’er it in that hour of sorest need,
And they felt that Death was holy, and it sanctified the deed.
But they smiled and kissed each other when their new strange task was o’er,
And the form that lay before them its unwonted garments wore.
Then with slow and weary labor a small grave they hollowed out,        45
And they lined it with the withered grass and leaves that lay about.
But the day was slowly breaking ere their holy work was done,
And in crimson pomp the morning heralded again the sun.
Gently then those little maidens—they were children of our foes—
Laid the body of our drummer-boy to undisturbed repose.        50

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