Sentinel Songs

A poem by Abram Joseph Ryan

When falls the soldier brave,
Dead at the feet of wrong,
The poet sings and guards his grave
With sentinels of song.

Songs, march! he gives command,
Keep faithful watch and true;
The living and dead of the conquered land
Have now no guards save you.

Gray ballads! mark ye well!
Thrice holy is your trust!
Go! halt by the fields where warriors fell;
Rest arms! and guard their dust.

List, songs! your watch is long,
The soldiers' guard was brief;
Whilst right is right, and wrong is wrong,
Ye may not seek relief.

Go! wearing the gray of grief!
Go! watch o'er the dead in gray!
Go! guard the private and guard the chief,
And sentinel their clay!

And the songs, in stately rhyme
And with softly sounding tread,
Go forth, to watch for a time -- a time --
Where sleep the Deathless Dead.

And the songs, like funeral dirge,
In music soft and low,
Sing round the graves, whilst hot tears surge
From hearts that are homes of woe.

What tho' no sculptured shaft
Immortalize each brave?
What tho' no monument epitaphed
Be built above each grave?

When marble wears away
And monuments are dust,
The songs that guard our soldiers' clay
Will still fulfil their trust.

With lifted head and stately tread,
Like stars that guard the skies,
Go watch each bed where rest the dead,
Brave songs, with sleepless eyes.

* * * * *

When falls the cause of Right,
The poet grasps his pen,
And in gleaming letters of living light
Transmits the truth to men.

Go, songs! he says who sings;
Go! tell the world this tale;
Bear it afar on your tireless wings:
The Right will yet prevail.

Songs! sound like the thunder's breath!
Boom o'er the world and say:
Brave men may die -- Right has no death!
Truth never shall pass away!

Go! sing thro' a nation's sighs!
Go! sob thro' a people's tears!
Sweep the horizons of all the skies,
And throb through a thousand years!

* * * * *

And the songs, with brave, sad face,
Go proudly down their way,
Wailing the loss of a conquered race
And waiting an Easter-day.

Away! away! like the birds,
They soar in their flight sublime;
And the waving wings of the poet's words
Flash down to the end of time.

When the flag of justice fails,
Ere its folds have yet been furled,
The poet waves its folds in wails
That flutter o'er the world.

Songs, march! and in rank by rank
The low, wild verses go,
To watch the graves where the grass is dank,
And the martyrs sleep below.

Songs! halt where there is no name!
Songs! stay where there is no stone!
And wait till you hear the feet of Fame
Coming to where ye moan.

And the songs, with lips that mourn,
And with hearts that break in twain
At the beck of the bard -- a hope forlorn --
Watch the plain where sleep the slain.

* * * * *

When the warrior's sword is lowered
Ere its stainless sheen grows dim,
The bard flings forth its dying gleam
On the wings of a deathless hymn.

Songs, fly far o'er the world
And adown to the end of time:
Let the sword still flash, tho' its flag be furled,
Thro' the sheen of the poet's rhyme.

Songs! fly as the eagles fly!
The bard unbars the cage;
Go, soar away, and afar and high
Wave your wings o'er every age.

Shriek shrilly o'er each day,
As futureward ye fly,
That the men were right who wore the gray,
And Right can never die.

And the songs, with waving wing,
Fly far, float far away
From the ages' crest; o'er the world they fling
The shade of the stainless gray.

Might! sing your triumph-songs!
Each song but sounds a shame;
Go down the world, in loud-voiced throngs,
To win, from the future, fame.

Our ballads, born of tears,
Will track you on your way,
And win the hearts of the future years
For the men who wore the gray.

And so -- say what you will --
In the heart of God's own laws
I have a faith, and my heart believes still
In the triumph of our cause.

Such hope may all be vain,
And futile be such trust;
But the weary eyes that weep the slain,
And watch above such dust,

They cannot help but lift
Their visions to the skies;
They watch the clouds, but wait the rift
Through which their hope shall rise.

The victor wields the sword:
Its blade may broken be
By a thought that sleeps in a deathless word,
To wake in the years to be.

We wait a grand-voiced bard,
Who, when he sings, will send
Immortal songs' "Imperial Guard"
The Lost Cause to defend.

He has not come; he will.
But when he chants, his song
Will stir the world to its depths and thrill
The earth with its tale of wrong.

The fallen cause still waits --
Its bard has not come yet.
His sun through one of to-morrow's gates
Shall shine, but never set.

But when he comes he'll sweep
A harp with tears all stringed,
And the very notes he strikes will weep
As they come from his hand woe-winged.

Ah! grand shall be his strain,
And his songs shall fill all climes,
And the rebels shall rise and march again
Down the lines of his glorious rhymes.

And through his verse shall gleam
The swords that flashed in vain,
And the men who wore the gray shall seem
To be marshaling again.

But hush! between his words
Peer faces sad and pale,
And you hear the sound of broken chords
Beat through the poet's wail.

Through his verse the orphans cry --
The terrible undertone --
And the father's curse and the mother's sigh,
And the desolate young wife's moan.

* * * * *

But harps are in every land
That await a voice that sings,
And a master-hand -- but the humblest hand
May gently touch its strings.

I sing with a voice too low
To be heard beyond to-day,
In minor keys of my people's woe,
But my songs pass away.

To-morrow hears them not --
To-morrow belongs to Fame --
My songs, like the birds', will be forgot,
And forgotten shall be my name.

And yet who knows? Betimes
The grandest songs depart,
While the gentle, humble, and low-toned rhymes
Will echo from heart to heart.

But, oh! if in song or speech,
In major or minor key,
My voice could over the ages reach,
I would whisper the name of Lee.

In the night of our defeat
Star after star had gone,
But the way was bright to our soldiers' feet
Where the star of Lee led on.

But sudden there came a cloud,
Out rung a nation's knell;
Our cause was wrapped in its winding shroud,
All fell when the great Lee fell.

From his men, with scarce a word,
Silence when great hearts part!
But we know he sheathed his stainless sword
In the wound of a broken heart.

He fled from Fame; but Fame
Sought him in his retreat,
Demanding for the world one name
Made deathless by defeat.

Nay, Fame! success is best!
All lost! and nothing won:
North, keep the clouds that flush the West,
We have the sinking sun.

All lost! but by the graves
Where martyred heroes rest,
He wins the most who honor saves --
Success is not the test.

All lost! a nation weeps;
By all the tears that fall,
He loses naught who conscience keeps,
Lee's honor saves us all.

All lost! but e'en defeat
Hath triumphs of her own,
Wrong's paean hath no note so sweet
As trampled Right's proud moan.

The world shall yet decide,
In truth's clear, far-off light,
That the soldiers who wore the gray, and died
With Lee, were in the right.

And men, by time made wise,
Shall in the future see
No name hath risen, or ever shall rise,
Like the name of Robert Lee.

Ah, me! my words are weak,
This task surpasses me;
Dead soldiers! rise from your graves and speak,
And tell how you loved Lee.

The banner you bore is furled,
And the gray is faded, too!
But in all the colors that deck the world
Your gray blends not with blue.

The colors are far apart,
Graves sever them in twain;
The Northern heart and the Southern heart
May beat in peace again;

But still till time's last day,
Whatever lips may plight,
The blue is blue, but the gray is gray,
Wrong never accords with Right.

Go, Glory! and forever guard
Our chieftain's hallowed dust;
And Honor! keep eternal ward!
And Fame! be this thy trust!

Go! with your bright emblazoned scroll
And tell the years to be,
The first of names that flash your roll
Is ours -- great Robert Lee.

Lee wore the gray! since then
'Tis Right's and Honor's hue!
He honored it, that man of men,
And wrapped it round the true.

Dead! but his spirit breathes!
Dead! but his heart is ours!
Dead! but his sunny and sad land wreathes
His crown with tears for flowers.

A statue for his tomb!
Mould it of marble white!
For Wrong, a spectre of death and doom;
An angel of hope for Right.

But Lee has a thousand graves
In a thousand hearts, I ween;
And teardrops fall from our eyes in waves
That will keep his memory green.

Ah! Muse, you dare not claim
A nobler man than he,
Nor nobler man hath less of blame,
Nor blameless man hath purer name,
Nor purer name hath grander fame,
Nor fame -- another Lee.

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