Verse > Anthologies > Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. > Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry
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Ralph Waldo Emerson, comp. (1803–1882).  Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry.  1880.
 
What the Birds said
By John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892)
 
THE BIRDS, against the April wind,
  Flew northward, singing as they flew;
They sang, “The land we leave behind
  Has swords for corn-blades, blood for dew.”
 
“O wild-birds, flying from the South,        5
  What saw and heard ye, gazing down?”
“We saw the mortar’s upturned mouth,
  The sickened camp, the blazing town!
 
“Beneath the bivouac’s starry lamps,
  We saw your march-worn children die;        10
In shrouds of moss, in cypress swamps,
  We saw your dead uncoffined lie.
 
“We heard the starving prisoner’s sighs;
  And saw, from line and trench, your sons
Follow our flight with home-sick eyes        15
  Beyond the battery’s smoking guns.”
 
“And heard and saw ye only wrong
  And pain,” I cried, “O wing-worn flocks?”
“We heard,” they sang, “the Freedman’s song,
  The crash of Slavery’s broken locks!        20
 
“We saw from new, uprising States
  The treason-nursing mischief spurned,
As, crowding Freedom’s ample gates,
  The long-estranged and lost returned.
 
“O’er dusky faces, seamed and old,        25
  And hands horn-hard with unpaid toil,
With hope in every rustling fold,
  We saw your star-dropt flag uncoil.
 
“And, struggling up through sounds accursed,
  A grateful murmur clomb the air,        30
A whisper scarcely heard at first,
  It filled the listening heavens with prayer.
 
“And sweet and far, as from a star,
  Replied a voice which shall not cease,
Till, drowning all the noise of war,        35
  It sings the blessed song of peace!”
 
So to me, in a doubtful day
  Of chill and slowly-greening spring,
Low stooping from the cloudy gray,
  The wild-birds sang or seemed to sing.        40
 
They vanished in the misty air,
  The song went with them in their flight;
But lo! they left the sunset fair,
  And in the evening there was light.
 
 
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