A March In The Ranks, Hard-Prest

A poem by Walt Whitman

A march in the ranks hard-prest, and the road unknown;
A route through a heavy wood, with muffled steps in the darkness;
Our army foil'd with loss severe, and the sullen remnant retreating;
Till after midnight glimmer upon us, the lights of a dim-lighted
building;
We come to an open space in the woods, and halt by the dim-lighted
building;
'Tis a large old church at the crossing roads--'tis now an impromptu
hospital;
--Entering but for a minute, I see a sight beyond all the pictures
and poems ever made:
Shadows of deepest, deepest black, just lit by moving candles and
lamps,
And by one great pitchy torch, stationary, with wild red flame, and
clouds of smoke;
By these, crowds, groups of forms, vaguely I see, on the floor, some
in the pews laid down;
At my feet more distinctly, a soldier, a mere lad, in danger of
bleeding to death, (he is shot in the abdomen;)
I staunch the blood temporarily, (the youngster's face is white as a
lily;)
Then before I depart I sweep my eyes o'er the scene, fain to absorb
it all;
Faces, varieties, postures beyond description, most in obscurity,
some of them dead;
Surgeons operating, attendants holding lights, the smell of ether,
the odor of blood;
The crowd, O the crowd of the bloody forms of soldiers--the yard
outside also fill'd;
Some on the bare ground, some on planks or stretchers, some in the
death-spasm sweating;
An occasional scream or cry, the doctor's shouted orders or calls;
The glisten of the little steel instruments catching the glint of the
torches;
These I resume as I chant--I see again the forms, I smell the
odor;
Then hear outside the orders given, Fall in, my men, Fall in;
But first I bend to the dying lad--his eyes open--a half-smile gives
he me;
Then the eyes close, calmly close, and I speed forth to the darkness,
Resuming, marching, ever in darkness marching, on in the ranks,
The unknown road still marching.

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