Grant's Dirge

A poem by George Parsons Lathrop

I

Ah, who shall sound the hero's funeral march?
And what shall be the music of his dirge?
No single voice may chant the Nation's grief,
No formal strain can give its woe relief.
The pent-up anguish of the loyal wife,
The sobs of those who, nearest in this life,
Still hold him closely in the life beyond; -
These first, with threnody of memories fond.
But look! Forth press a myriad mourners thronging,
With hearts that throb in sorrow's exaltation,
Moved by a strange, impassioned, hopeless longing
To serve him with their love's last ministration.
Make way! Make way, from wave-bound verge to verge
Of all our land, that this great multitude
With lamentation proud albeit subdued,
Deep murmuring like the ocean's mighty surge,
May pass beneath the heavens' triumphal arch!


II

What is the sound we hear?
Never the fall of a tear;
For grief repressed
In every breast
More honors the man we revere.
Rising from East and West,
There echoes afar or near -
From the cool, sad North and the burning South -
A sound long since grown dear,
When brave ranks faced the cannon's mouth
And died for a faith austere:
The tread of marching men,
A steady tramp of feet
That never flinched nor faltered when
The drums of duty beat.
With sable hats whose shade
Falls from the cord of gold
On every time-worn face;
With tattered flags, in black enrolled,
Beneath whose folds they warred of old;
Forward, firmly arrayed,
With a sombre, martial grace;
So the Grand Army moves
Commanded by the dead,
Following him whose name it loves,
Whose voice in life its footsteps led.


III

Those that in the combat perished, -
Hostile shapes and forms of friends, -
Those we hated, those we cherished,
Meet the pageant where it ends.
Flash of steel and tears forgiving
Blend in splendor. Hark, the knell!
Comrades ghostly join the living -
Dreaming, chanting: "All is well."
They receive the General sleeping,
Him of spirit pure and large:
Him they draw into their keeping
Evermore, in faithful charge.


IV

Pass on, O steps, with your dead, sad note!
For a people's homage is in the sound;
And the even tread, in measured rote,
As a leader is laid beneath the ground,
Rumors the hum of a pilgrim train
That shall trample the earth as tramples the rain,
Seeking the door of the hero's tomb,
Seeking him where he lies low in the gloom,
Paying him tribute of worker and mage,
Through age on age!


V

Tall pine-tree on McGregor's height,
How didst thou grow to such a lofty bearing,
For song of bird or beat of breeze uncaring,
There where thy shadow touched the dying brow?
Were all thy sinewy fibres shaped aright?
Was there no flaw? With what mysterious daring
Didst thou put forth each murmuring, odorous bough
And trust it to the frail support of air?
We only know that thou art now supreme:
We know not how thou grewest so tall and fair.
So from the unnoticed, humble earth arose
The sturdy man whom we, bewailing, deem
Worthy the wondrous name fame's far voice blows.
And lo! his ancient foes
Rise up to praise the plan
Of modest grandeur, loyal trust,
And generous power from man to man,
That lifted him above the formless dust.
O heart by kindliness betrayed,
O noble spirit snared and strayed -
Unmatched, upright thou standest still
As that firm pine-tree rooted on the hill!


VI

No paragon was he,
But moulded in the rough
With every fault and scar
Ingrained, and plain for all to see:
Even as the rocks and mountains are,
Common perhaps, yet wrought of such true stuff
That common nature in his essence grew
To something which till then it never knew;
Ay, common as a vast, refreshing wind
That sweeps the continent, or as some star
Which, 'mid a million, shines out well-defined:
With honest soul on duty bent,
A servant-soldier, President;
Meekest when crowned with victory,
And greatest in adversity!


VII

A silent man whom, strangely, fate
Made doubly silent ere he died,
His speechless spirit rules us still;
And that deep spell of influence mute,
The majesty of dauntless will
That wielded hosts and saved the State,
Seems through the mist our spirits yet to thrill.
His heart is with us! From the root
Of toil and pain and brave endurance
Has sprung at last the perfect fruit,
The treasure of a rich assurance
That men who nobly work and live
A greater gift than life may give;
Yielding a promise for all time,
Which other men of newer date
Surely redeem in deeds sublime.
Forerunner of a valiant race,
His voiceless spirit still reminds us
Of ever-waiting, silent duty:
The bond of faith wherewith he binds us
Shall hold us ready hour by hour
To serve the sacred, guiding power
Whene'er it calls, where'er it finds us,
With loyalty that, like a folded flower,
Blooms at a touch in proud, full-circled beauty.


VIII

Like swelling river waves that strain,
Onward the people crowd
In serried, billowing train.
And those so slow to yield,
On many a hard fought field,
Muster together
Like a dark cloud
In summer weather,
Whose threatening thunders suddenly are stilled, -
And all the world is filled
With smiling rest. Victory to him was pain,
Till he had won his enemies by love;
Had leashed the eagle and unloosed the dove;
Setting on war's red roll the argent seal of peace.
So here they form their solid ranks again,
But in no mood of hatred or disdain.
They say: "Thou who art fallen at last,
Beleaguered stealthily, o'ercome by death,
Thy conqueror now shall be magnanimous
Even as thou wast to us.
But not for thee can we blot out the past:
We would not, if we might, forget thy last
Great act of war, that with a gentle hand
Brought back our hearts unto the mighty mother,
For whose defence and honor armed we stand.
We hail thee brother,
And so salute thy name with holy breath!"


IX

Land of the hurricane!
Land of the avalanche!
Land of tempest and rain;
Of the Southern sun and of frozen peaks;
Stretching from main to main; -
Land of the cypress-glooms;
Land of devouring looms;
Land of the forest and ranch; -
Hush every sound to-day
Save the burden of swarms that assemble
Their reverence dear to pay
Unto him who saved us all!
Ye masses that mourn with bended head,
Beneath whose feet the ground doth tremble
With weight of woe and a sacred dread -
Lift up the pall
That to us shall remain as a warrior's banner!
Gaze once more on the fast closed eyes;
Mark once the mouth that never speaks;
Think of the man and his quiet manner:
Weep if you will; then go your way;
But remember his face as it looks to the skies,
And the dumb appeal wherewith it seeks
To lead us on, as one should say, "Arise -
Go forth to meet your country's noblest day!"


X

Ah, who shall sound the hero's funeral march?
And what shall be the music of his dirge?
Let generations sing, as they emerge
And pass beneath the heavens' trumphal arch!

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