When fierce and fast-thronging calamities rush
Resistless as destiny o’er us, and crush
The life from the quivering heart till we feel
Like the victim whose body is broke on the wheel–
When we think we have touched the far limit at last,
–One throe, and the point of endurance is passed–
When we shivering hang on the verge of despair–
There still is capacity left us to bear.
The storm of the winter, the smile of the Spring,
No respite, no pause, and no hopefulness bring;
The demon of carnage still breathes his hot breath,
And fiercely goes forward the harvest of death.
Days painfully drag their slow burden along;
And the pulse that is beating so steady and strong,
Stands still, as there comes, from the echoing shore
Of the winding and clear Rappahannock, the roar
Of conflict so fell, that the silvery flood
Runs purple and rapid and ghastly with blood.
–Grand army of martyrs!–though victory waves
Them onward, her march must be over _their_ graves:
They feel it–they know it,–yet steadier each
Close phalanx moves into the desperate breach:
Their step does not falter–their faith does not yield,–
For yonder, supreme o’er the fiercely-fought field,
Erect in his leonine grandeur, they see
The proud and magnificent calmness of LEE!
‘Tis morn–but the night has brought Alice no rest:
The roof seems to press like a weight on her breast;
And she wanders forth, wearily lifting her eye,
To seek for relief ‘neath the calm of the sky.
The air of the forest is spicy and sweet,
And dreamily babbles a brook at her feet;
Her children are ’round her, and sunshine and flowers,
Try vainly to banish the gloom of the hours.
With a volume she fain her wild thoughts would assuage,
But her vision can trace not a line on the page,
And the poet’s dear strains, once so soft to her ear,
Have lost all their mystical power to cheer.
The evening approaches–the pressure–the woe
Grows drearer and heavier,–yet she must go,
And stifle between the dead walls, as she may,
The heart that scarce breathed in the free, open day.
She reaches the dwelling that serves as her home;
A horseman awaits at the entrance;–the foam
Is flecking the sides of his fast-ridden steed,
Who pants, over-worn with exhaustion and speed;
And Alice for support to Beverly clings,
As the soldier delivers the letter he brings.
Her ashy lips move, but the words do not come,
And she stands in her whiteness, bewildered and dumb:
She turns to the letter with hopeless appeal,
But her fingers are helpless to loosen the seal:
She lifts her dim eyes with a look of despair,–
Her hands for a moment are folded in prayer;
The strength she has sought is vouchsafed in her need:
–“I think I can bear it now, Beverly … read.”
The boy, with the resolute nerve of a man,
And a voice which he holds as serene as he can,
Takes quietly from her the letter, and reads:–
“Dear Madam,–My heart in its sympathy bleeds
For the pain that my tidings must bear you: may God
Most tenderly comfort you, under His rod!
“This morning, at daybreak, a terrible charge
Was made on the enemy’s centre: such large
And fresh reinforcements were held at his back,
He stoutly and stubbornly met the attack.
“Our cavalry bore themselves splendidly:–far
In front of his line galloped Colonel Dunbar;
Erect in his stirrups,–his sword flashing high,
And the look of a conqueror kindling his eye,
His silvery voice rang aloft through the roar
Of the musketry poured from the opposite shore:
–‘Remember the Valley!–remember your wives!
And on to your duty, boys!–on–with your lives!’
“He turned, and he paused, as he uttered the call–
Then reeled in his seat, and fell,–pierced by a ball.
“He lives and he breathes yet:–the surgeons declare,
That the balance is trembling ‘twixt hope and despair.
In his blanket he lies, on the hospital floor,–
So calm, you might deem all his agony o’er;
And here, as I write, on his face I can see
An expression whose radiance is startling to me.
His faith is sublime:–he relinquishes life,
And craves but one blessing,–_to look on his wife!_”
The Chaplain’s recital is ended:–no word
From Alice’s white, breathless lips has been heard;
Till, rousing herself from her passionless woe,
She simply and quietly says–“I will go.”
There are moments of anguish so deadly, so deep–
That numbness seems over the senses to creep,
With interposition, whose timely relief,
Is an anodyne-draught to the madness of grief.
Such mercy is meted to Alice;–her eye
That sees as it saw not, is vacant and dry:
The billows’ wild fury sweeps over her soul,
And she bends to the rush with a passive control.
Through the dusk of the night–through the glare of the day,
She urges, unconscious, her desolate way:
One image is ever her vision before,
–That blanketed form on the hospital floor!
Her journey is ended; and yonder she sees
The spot where _he_ lies, looming white through the trees:
Her torpor dissolves with a shuddering start,
And a terrible agony clutches her heart.
The Chaplain advances to meet her:–he draws
Her silently onward;–no question–no pause–
Her finger she lays on her lip;–if she spake,
She knows that the spell that upholds her, would break.
She has strength to go forward; they enter the door,–
And there, on the crowded and blood-tainted floor,
Close wrapped in his blanket, lies Douglass:–his brow
Wore never a look so seraphic as now!
She stretches her arms the dear form to enfold,–
God help her!…, she shrieks …, it is silent and cold!
(Margaret Junkin Preston)
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Based on Keywords: stubbornly, says-, douglass, flecking, recital, leonine, hopefulness, blanketed, rappahannock, beverly, interposition