In Memoriam (David J. Ryan, C.S.A.)

A poem by Abram Joseph Ryan

Thou art sleeping, brother, sleeping
In thy lonely battle grave;
Shadows o'er the past are creeping,
Death, the reaper, still is reaping,
Years have swept, and years are sweeping
Many a memory from my keeping,
But I'm waiting still, and weeping
For my beautiful and brave.

When the battle songs were chanted,
And war's stirring tocsin pealed,
By those songs thy heart was haunted,
And thy spirit, proud, undaunted,
Clamored wildly -- wildly panted:
"Mother! let my wish be granted;
I will ne'er be mocked and taunted
That I fear to meet our vaunted
Foemen on the bloody field.

"They are thronging, mother! thronging,
To a thousand fields of fame;
Let me go -- 'tis wrong, and wronging
God and thee to crush this longing;
On the muster-roll of glory,
In my country's future story,
On the field of battle gory
I must consecrate my name.

"Mother! gird my sword around me,
Kiss thy soldier-boy `good-bye.'"
In her arms she wildly wound thee,
To thy birth-land's cause she bound thee,
With fond prayers and blessings crowned thee,
And she sobbed: "When foes surround thee,
If you fall, I'll know they found thee
Where the bravest love to die."

At the altar of their nation,
Stood that mother and her son,
He, the victim of oblation,
Panting for his immolation;
She, in priestess' holy station,
Weeping words of consecration,
While God smiled his approbation,
Blessed the boy's self-abnegation,
Cheered the mother's desolation,
When the sacrifice was done.

Forth, like many a noble other,
Went he, whispering soft and low:
"Good-bye -- pray for me, my mother;
Sister! kiss me -- farewell, brother;"
And he strove his grief to smother.
Forth, with footsteps firm and fearless,
And his parting gaze was tearless
Though his heart was lone and cheerless,
Thus from all he loved to go.

Lo! yon flag of freedom flashing
In the sunny Southern sky:
On, to death and glory dashing,
On, where swords are clanging, clashing,
On, where balls are crushing, crashing,
On, 'mid perils dread, appalling,
On, they're falling, falling, falling.
On, they're growing fewer, fewer,
On, their hearts beat all the truer,
On, on, on, no fear, no falter,
On, though round the battle-altar
There were wounded victims moaning,
There were dying soldiers groaning;
On, right on, death's danger braving,
Warring where their flag was waving,
While Baptismal blood was laving
All that field of death and slaughter;
On, still on; that bloody lava
Made them braver and made them braver,
On, with never a halt or waver,
On in battle -- bleeding -- bounding,
While the glorious shout swept sounding,
"We will win the day or die!"

And they won it; routed -- riven --
Reeled the foemen's proud array:
They had struggled hard, and striven,
Blood in torrents they had given,
But their ranks, dispersed and driven,
Fled, in sullenness, away.

Many a heart was lonely lying
That would never throb again;
Some were dead, and some were dying;
Those were silent, these were sighing;
Thus to die alone, unattended,
Unbewept and unbefriended,
On that bloody battle-plain.

When the twilight sadly, slowly
Wrapped its mantle o'er them all,
Thousands, thousands lying lowly,
Hushed in silence deep and holy,
There was one, his blood was flowing
And his last of life was going,

And his pulse faint, fainter beating
Told his hours were few and fleeting;
And his brow grew white and whiter,
While his eyes grew strangely brighter;
There he lay -- like infant dreaming,
With his sword beside him gleaming,
For the hand in life that grasped it,
True in death still fondly clasped it;
There his comrades found him lying
'Mid the heaps of dead and dying,
And the sternest bent down weeping
O'er the lonely sleeper sleeping:
'Twas the midnight; stars shone round him,
And they told us how they found him
Where the bravest love to fall.

Where the woods, like banners bending,
Drooped in starlight and in gloom,
There, when that sad night was ending,
And the faint, far dawn was blending
With the stars now fast descending;
There they mute and mournful bore him,
With the stars and shadows o'er him,
And they laid him down -- so tender --
And the next day's sun, in splendor,
Flashed above my brother's tomb.

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