Dirge for Two Veterans
(from Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman)
The last sunbeam
Lightly falls from the finish’d Sabbath,
On the pavement here—and there beyond, it is looking,
Down a new-made double grave.
Lo! the moon ascending!
Up from the east, the silvery round moon;
Beautiful over the house tops, ghastly phantom moon;
Immense and silent moon.
I see a sad procession,
And I hear the sound of coming full-key’d bugles;
All the channels of the city streets they’re flooding,
As with voices and with tears.
I hear the great drums pounding,
And the small drums steady whirring;
And every blow of the great convulsive drums,
Strikes me through and through.
For the son is brought with the father;
In the foremost ranks of the fierce assault they fell;
Two veterans, son and father, dropt together,
And the double grave awaits them.
Now nearer blow the bugles,
And the drums strike more convulsive;
And the day-light o’er the pavement quite has faded,
And the strong dead-march enwraps me.
In the eastern sky up-buoying,
The sorrowful vast phantom moves illumin’d;
(’Tis some mother’s large, transparent face,
In heaven brighter growing.)
O strong dead-march, you please me!
O moon immense, with your silvery face you soothe me!
O my soldiers twain! O my veterans, passing to burial!
What I have I also give you.
The moon gives you light,
And the bugles and the drums give you music;
And my heart, O my soldiers, my veterans,
My heart gives you love.
Walt Whitman was an American poet, who has been called the “Poet of Democracy” and “America’s Shakespeare.” He lived from 1819-1892. Throughout his lifetime, he wrote several editions of the poetry collection Leaves of Grass. It is personal as well as political, reflecting the growth of the nation.
I admire Whitman not only for his poetry, but for his empathetic nature and the way he acted on his convictions. During the Civil War, when he heard that his brother was injured, he went to Washington, D.C. to look for him. When he saw the number of suffering and wounded, he stayed on, serving as a volunteer nurse, making over 600 visits to military hospitals to care for them. To learn more about him, click here. Sometimes you have to put down the pen, or push away from the keyboard, and get out in the world and do what needs to be done.
To hear “Taps,” click here.