Reference > Anthologies > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library > Verse

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
A Pledge to the Dead
By William Winter (1836–1917)
Read before the Society of the Army of the Potomac, at Albany, N. Y., June 18th, 1879

From ‘Wanderers’

FROM the lily of love that uncloses
  In the glow of a festival kiss,
On the wind that is heavy with roses,
  And shrill with the bugles of bliss,
Let it float o’er the mystical ocean        5
  That breaks on the kingdom of night—
Our oath of eternal devotion
  To the heroes who died for the right!
They loved, as we love—yet they parted
  From all that man’s spirit can prize;        10
Left woman and child broken-hearted,
  Staring up to the pitiless skies;
Left the tumult of youth, the rich guerdon
  Hope promised to conquer from fate;
Gave all for the agonized burden        15
  Of death, for the Flag and the State.
Where they roam on the slopes of the mountain
  That only by angels is trod,
Where they muse by the crystalline fountain
  That springs in the garden of God,        20
Are they lost in unspeakable splendor?
  Do they never look back and regret?
Ah, the valiant are constant and tender,
  And Honor can never forget!
Divine in their pitying sadness,        25
  They grieve for their comrades of earth:
They will hear us, and start into gladness,
  And echo the notes of our mirth;
They will lift their white hands with a blessing
  We shall know by the tear that it brings—        30
The rapture of friendship confessing,
  With harps and the waving of wings.
In the grim and relentless upheaval
  That blesses the world through a curse,
Still bringing the good out of evil—        35
  The garland of peace on the hearse!—
They were shattered, consumed, and forsaken,
  Like the shadows that fly from the dawn:
We may never know why they were taken,
  But we always shall feel they are gone.        40
If the wind that sighs over our prairies
  No longer is solemn with knells,
But lovely with flowers and fairies,
  And sweet with the calm Sabbath bells;
If virtue, in cottage and palace,        45
  Leads love to the bridal of pride,
’Tis because out of war’s bitter chalice
  Our heroes drank deeply—and died.
Ah, grander in doom-stricken glory
  Than the greatest that linger behind,        50
They shall live in perpetual story,
  Who saved the last hope of mankind!
For their cause was the cause of the races
  That languished in slavery’s night;
And the death that was pale on their faces        55
  Has filled the whole world with its light!
To the clouds and the mountains we breathe it;
  To the freedom of planet and star;
Let the tempests of ocean enwreathe it;
  Let the winds of the night bear it far,—        60
Our oath, that till manhood shall perish,
  And honor and virtue are sped,
We are true to the cause that they cherish,
  And eternally true to the dead!

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