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- Poems of American Patriotism - 5/30 -

Round the barges gliding onward blushed like blood along their tracks.

So they crossed to the other border, and again they formed in order; And the boats came back for soldiers, came for soldiers, soldiers still: The time seemed everlasting to us women faint and fasting,-- At last they're moving, marching, marching proudly up the hill.

We can see the bright steel glancing all along the lines advancing-- Now the front rank fires a volley--they have thrown away their shot; Far behind the earthwork lying, all the balls above them flying, Our people need not hurry; so they wait and answer not.

Then the Corporal, our old cripple (he would swear sometimes and tipple),-- He had heard the bullets whistle (in the old French war) before,-- Calls out in words of jeering, just as if they all were hearing,-- And his wooden leg thumps fiercely on the dusty belfry floor:--

"Oh! fire away, ye villains, and earn King George's shillin's, But ye'll waste a ton of powder afore a 'rebel' falls; You may bang the dirt and welcome, they're as safe as Dan'l Malcolm Ten foot beneath the gravestone that you've splintered with your balls!"

In the hush of expectation, in the awe and trepidation Of the dread approaching moment, we are well-nigh breathless all; Though the rotten bars are failing on the rickety belfry railing, We are crowding up against them like the waves against a wall.

Just a glimpse (the air is clearer), they are nearer,--nearer,-- nearer, When a flash--a curling smoke-wreath--then a crash--the steeple shakes-- The deadly truce is ended; the tempest's shroud is rended; Like a morning mist it gathered, like a thunder-cloud it breaks!

O the sight our eyes discover as the blue-black smoke blows over! The red-coats stretched in windrows as a mower rakes his hay; Here a scarlet heap is lying, there a headlong crowd is flying Like a billow that has broken and is shivered into spray.

Then we cried, "The troops are routed! they are beat--it can't be doubted! God be thanked, the fight is over!"--Ah! the grim old soldier's smile! "Tell us, tell us why you look so?" (we could hardly speak, we shook so),-- "Are they beaten? _Are_ they beaten? ARE they beaten?"-- "Wait a while."

O the trembling and the terror! for too soon we saw our error: They are baffled, not defeated; we have driven them back in vain; And the columns that were scattered, round the colors that were tattered, Toward the sullen silent fortress turn their belted breasts again.

All at once, as we are gazing, lo the roofs of Charlestown blazing! They have fired the harmless village; in an hour it will be down! The Lord in heaven confound them, rain his fire and brimstone round them,-- The robbing, murdering red-coats, that would burn a peaceful town!

They are marching, stern and solemn; we can see each massive column As they near the naked earth-mound with the slanting walls so steep. Have our soldiers got faint-hearted, and in noiseless haste departed? Are they panic-struck and helpless? Are they palsied or asleep?

Now! the walls they're almost under! scarce a rod the foes asunder! Not a firelock flashed against them! up the earthwork they will swarm! But the words have scarce been spoken, when the ominous calm is broken, And a bellowing crash has emptied all the vengeance of the storm!

So again, with murderous slaughter, pelted backward to the water, Fly Pigot's running heroes and the frightened braves of Howe; And we shout, "At last they're done for, it's their barges they have run for: They are beaten, beaten, beaten; and the battle's over now!"

And we looked, poor timid creatures, on the rough old soldier's features, Our lips afraid to question, but he knew what we would ask: "Not sure," he said; "keep quiet,--once more, I guess, they'll try it-- Here's damnation to the cut-throats!" then he handed me his flask,

Saying, "Gal, you're looking shaky; have a drop of old Jamaiky: I'm afraid there'll be more trouble afore this job is done;" So I took one scorching swallow; dreadful faint I felt and hollow, Standing there from early morning when the firing was begun.

All through those hours of trial I had watched a calm clock dial, As the hands kept creeping, creeping,--they were creeping round to four, When the old man said, "They're forming with their bayonets fixed for storming: It's the death grip that's a coming,--they will try the works once more."

With brazen trumpets blaring, the flames behind them glaring, The deadly wall before them, in close array they come; Still onward, upward toiling, like a dragon's fold uncoiling-- Like the rattlesnake's shrill warning the reverberating drum!

Over heaps all torn and gory--shall I tell the fearful story, How they surged above the breastwork, as a sea breaks over a deck; How, driven, yet scarce defeated, our worn-out men retreated, With their powder-horns all emptied, like the swimmers from a wreck?

It has all been told and painted; as for me, they say I fainted, And the wooden-legged old Corporal stumped with me down the stair: When I woke from dreams affrighted the evening lamps were lighted,-- On the floor a youth was lying; his bleeding breast was bare.

And I heard through all the flurry, "Send for WARREN! hurry! hurry! Tell him here's a soldier bleeding, and he'll come and dress his wound!" Ah, we knew not till the morrow told its tale of death and sorrow, How the starlight found him stiffened on the dark and bloody ground.

Who the youth was, what his name was, where the place from which he came was, Who had brought him from the battle, and had left him at our door, He could not speak to tell us; but 'twas one of our brave fellows, As the homespun plainly showed us which the dying soldier wore.

For they all thought he was dying, as they gathered 'round him crying,-- And they said, "O, how they'll miss him!" and, "What will his mother do?" Then, his eyelids just unclosing like a child's that has been dozing, He faintly murmured, "Mother!"--and--I saw his eyes were blue.

--"Why, grandma, how you're winking!"--Ah, my child, it sets me thinking Of a story not like this one. Well, he somehow lived along; So we came to know each other, and I nursed him like a--mother, Till at last he stood before me, tall, and rosy-cheeked, and strong.

And we sometimes walked together in the pleasant summer weather; --"Please to tell us what his name was?"--Just your own, my little dear,-- There's his picture Copley painted: we became so well acquainted, That--in short, that's why I'm grandma, and you children all are here!



[Sidenote: June 17, 1775] _Joseph Warren was commissioned by Massachusetts as a Major-General three days before the battle of Bunker Hill, at which he fought as a volunteer. He was one of the last to leave the field, and as a British officer in the redoubt called to him to surrender, a ball struck him in the forehead, killing him instantly._

Stand! the ground's your own, my braves! Will ye give it up to slaves? Will ye look for greener graves? Hope ye mercy still? What's the mercy despots feel? Hear it in that battle-peal! Read it on yon bristling steel. Ask it,--ye who will.

Fear ye foes who kill for hire? Will ye to your homes retire? Look behind you!--they're a-fire! And, before you, see Who have done it!--From the vale On they come!--And will ye quail?-- Leaden rain and iron hail Let their welcome be!

In the God of battles trust! Die we may,--and die we must;-- But, O, where can dust to dust Be consigned so well, As where Heaven its dews shall shed On the martyred patriot's bed, And the rocks shall raise their head, Of his deeds to tell!

Poems of American Patriotism - 5/30

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