The Bride Of War

A poem by George Parsons Lathrop



The trumpet, with a giant sound,
Its harsh war-summons wildly sings;
And, bursting forth like mountain-springs,
Poured from the hillside camping-ground,
Each swift battalion shouting flings
Its force in line; where you may see
The men, broad-shouldered, heavily
Sway to the swing of the march; their heads
Dark like the stones in river-beds.

Lightly the autumn breezes
Play with the shining dust-cloud
Rising to the sunset rays
From feet of the moving column.
Soft, as you listen, comes
The echo of iterant drums,
Brought by the breezes light
From the files that follow the road.
A moment their guns have glowed
Sun-smitten: then out of sight
They suddenly sink,
Like men who touch a new grave's brink!


So it was the march began,
The march of Morgan's riflemen,
Who like iron held the van
In unhappy Arnold's plan
To win Wolfe's daring fame again.
With them, by her husband's side,
Jemima Warner, nobly free,
Moved more fair than when, a bride,
One year since, she strove to hide
The blush it was a joy to see.


O distant, terrible forests of Maine,
With huge trees numberless as the rain
That falls on your lonely lakes!
(It falls and sings through the years, but wakes
No answering echo of joy or pain.)

Your tangled wilderness was tracked
With struggle and sorrow and vengeful act
'Gainst Puritan, pagan, and priest.
Where wolf and panther and serpent ceased,
Man added the horrors your dark maze lacked.

The land was scarred with deeds not good,
Like the fretting of worms on withered wood.
What if its venomous spell
Breathed into Arnold a prompting of Hell,
With slow empoisoning force indued?


As through that dreary realm he went,
Followed a shape of dark portent: -
Pard-like, of furtive eye, with brain
To treason narrowing, Aaron Burr,
Moved loyal-seeming in the train,
Led by the arch-conspirator.
And craven Enos closed the rear,
Whose honor's flame died out in fear.
Not sooner does the dry bough burn
And into fruitless ashes turn,
Than he with whispered, false command
Drew back the hundreds in his hand;
Fled like a shade; and all forsook.

Wherever Arnold bent his look,
Danger and doubt around him hung;
And pale Disaster, shrouded, flung
Black omens in his track, as though
The fingers of a future woe
Already clutched his life, to wring
Some expiation for the thing
That he was yet to do. A chill
Struck helpless many a steadfast will
Within the ranks; the very air
Rang with a thunder-toned despair:
The hills seemed wandering to and fro,
Like lost guides blinded by the snow.


Yet faithful still 'mid woe and doubt
One woman's loyal heart - whose pain
Filled it with pure celestial light -
Shone starry-constant like the North,
Or that still radiance beaming forth
From sacred lights in some lone fane.
But he whose ring Jemima wore,
By want and weariness all unstrung,
Though strong and honest of heart and young,
Shrank at the blast that pierced so frore -
Like a huge, invisible bird of prey
Furious launched from Labrador
And the granite cliffs of Saguenay!

Along the bleak Dead River's banks
They forced amain their frozen way;
But ever from the thinning ranks
Shapes of ice would reel and fall,
Human shapes, whose dying prayer
Floated, a mute white mist, in air;
The crowding snow their pall.

Spectre-like Famine drew near;
Her doom-word hummed in his ear:
Ah, weak were woman's hands to reach
And save him from the hellish charms
And wizard motion of those arms!
Yet only noble womanhood
The wife her dauntless part could teach:
She shared with him the last dry food
And thronged with hopefulness her speech,
As when hard by her home the flood
Of rushing Conestoga fills
Its depth afresh from springtide rills!

All, all in vain!
For far behind the invading rout
These two were left alone;
And in the waste their wildest shout
Seemed but a smothered groan.
Like sheeted wanderers from the grave
They moved, and yet seemed not to stir,
As icy gorge and sere-leaf'd grove
Of withered oak and shrouded fir
Were passed, and onward still they strove;
While the loud wind's artillery clave
The air, and furious sleety rain
Swung like a sword above the plain!


They crossed the hills; they came to where
Through an arid gloom the river Chaudiere
Fled like a Maenad with outstreaming hair;
And there the soldier sank, and died.
Death-dumb he fell; yet ere life sped,
Child-like on her knee he laid his head.
She strove to pray; but all words fled
Save those their love had sanctified.

And then her voice rose waveringly
To the notes of a mother's lullaby;
But her song was only "Ah, must thou die?"
And to her his eyes death-still replied.


Dead leaves and stricken boughs
She heaped o'er the fallen form -
Wolf nor hawk nor lawless storm
Him from his rest should rouse;
But first, with solemn vows,
Took rifle, pouch, and horn,
And the belt that he had worn.
Then, onward pressing fast
Through the forest rude and vast,
Hunger-wasted, fever-parch'd,
Many bitter days she marched
With bleeding feet that spurned the flinty pain;
One thought always throbbing through her brain:
"They shall never say, 'He was afraid,' -
They shall never cry, 'The coward stayed!'"


Now the wilderness is passed;
Now the first hut reached, at last.

Ho, dwellers by the frontier trail,
Come forth and greet the bride of war!
From cabin and rough settlement
They come to speed her on her way -
Maidens, whose ruddy cheeks grow pale
With pity never felt before;
Children that cluster at the door;
Mothers, whose toil-worn hands are lent
To help, or bid her longer stay.
But through them all she passes on,
Strangely martial, fair and wan;
Nor waits to listen to their cheers
That sound so faintly in her ears.
For now all scenes around her shift,
Like those before a racer's eyes
When, foremost sped and madly swift,
Quick stretching toward the goal he flies,
Yet feels his strength wane with his breath,
And purpose fail 'mid fears of death, -

Till, like the flashing of a lamp,
Starts forth the sight of Arnold's camp, -
The bivouac flame, and sinuous gleam
Of steel, - where, crouched, the army waits,
Ere long, beyond the midnight stream,
To storm Quebec's ice-mounded gates.


Then to the leader she was brought,
And spoke her simply loyal thought.
If, 'mid the shame of after-days,
The man who wronged his country's trust
(Yet now in worth outweighed all praise)
Remembered what this woman wrought,
It should have bowed him to the dust!
"Humbly my soldier-husband tried
To do his part. He served, - and died.
But honor did not die. His name
And honor - bringing both, I came;
And this his rifle, here, to show,
While far away the tired heart sleeps,
To-day his faith with you he keeps!"

Proudly the war bride, ending so,
Sank breathless in the dumb white snow.

Reader Comments

Tell us what you think of 'The Bride Of War' by George Parsons Lathrop

comments powered by Disqus