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Ina Donna Coolbrith (Ина Донна Кулбрит)


Memorial Poem



WRITTEN FOR THE GRAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC, SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA, DECORATION DAY, 1881.

THE sea-tides ebb and flow;
The seasons come and go,
Summer and sun succeed the cloud and snow,
And April rain awakes the violet.
Earth puts away
Her sombre robes, and cheeks with tear-drops wet
In some sad yesterday
Dimple again with smiles, and half forget
Their grief, as the warm rose
Forgets the night-dews when the noontide glows.

Change follows upon change
Swift as the hours; and far away, and strange
As the dim memory of night's troubled dream
In dawn's returning beam,
Seem the dark, troubled years,
The sad, but glorious years,
Writ on the nation's heart in blood and tears.

Ah, God! and yet we know
It was no dream in those days, long ago:
It was no dream, the beat
To arms, the steady tramp along the street
Of answering thousands, quick with word and deed
Unto their country's need;
No dream the banners, flinging, fresh and fair,
Their colors on the air —
Not stained and worn like these
Returning witnesses,
With sad, dumb lips, most eloquent of those
Returning nevermore!
Of those on many a hard-fought battlefield,
From hand to hand that bore
Their starry folds, and, knowing not to yield,
Fell, with a brave front steady to their foes.

Year after year the spring steals back again,
Bringing the bird and blossom in her train,
Beauty and melody,
But they return no more!
Borne on what tides of pain,
Over the unknown sea,
Unto the unknown shore:
Amid the pomp and show
Of glittering ranks, the cannon's smoke and roar,
Tossed in the rock and reel
Of the wild waves of battle to and fro,
Amid the roll of drums, the ring of steel,
The clash of sabre, and the fiery hell
Of bursting shot and shell,
The scream of wounded steeds, the thunder tones
Of firm command, the prayers, the cheers, the groans, 
War's mingled sounds of triumph and despair
Blending with trumpet-blast and bugle-blare.

But not alone amid the battle wrack
They died, — our brave true men.
By southern glade and glen,
In dark morass, within whose, pathless deeps,
The serpent coils and creeps,
They fell, with the fierce bloodhound on their track.
Amid the poisonous breath
Of crowded cells, and the rank, festering death
Of the dread prison-pen;
From dreary hospital,
And the dear, sheltering wall
Of home, that claimed them but to lose again,
They passed away, — the army of our slain!

O Leader! tried and true,
What words may speak of thee?
Last sacrifice divine,
Upon our country's shrine!
O man, that towered above
Thy fellow-men, with heart the tenderest,
And "whitest soul the nation ever knew!"
Bravest and kingliest!
We lay our sorrow down
Before thee, as a crown;
We fold thee with our love
In silence: where are words to speak of thee?

For us the budded laughter of the May
Is beautiful to-day,
Upon the land, but nevermore for them,
Our heroes gone, the rose upon its stem
Unfolds, or the fair lily blooms to bless
Their living eyes, with its pure loveliness;
No song-bird at the morn
Greets them with gladness of 'a day new-born;
No kiss of child or wife
Warms their cold lips again to love and life,
Breaking sweet slumbers with as sweet release.
They may not wake again!
But from the precious soil,
Born of their toil —
Nursed with what crimson rain —
We pluck to-day the snow-white flower of peace.

He does not die, who in a noble cause
Renders his life: immortal as the laws
By which God rules the universe is he.
Silence his name may hold,
His fame untold
In all the annals of earth's great may be,
But, bounded by no span
Of years which rounds the common lot of man,
Lo! he is one
Henceforward, with the work which he has done,
Whose meed and measure is Eternity.

They are not lost to us, they still are ours,
They do but rest. Cover their graves with flowers— 
Earth's fairest treasures, fashioned with that skill,
Which makes the daisy's disk a miracle
No less than man. On monument and urn,
Let their rich fragrance burn,
Like incense on an altar; softly spread
A royal mantle o'er each unmarked bed,
And, as a jeweled-rain,
Drop their bright petals for the nameless dead
And lonely, scattered wide
On plain and mountain-side,
Beneath the wave, and by the river-tide.
So let them rest
Upon their country's breast.
They have not died in vain:
Through them she lives, with head no longer bowed
Among the nations, but erect and proud —
Washed clean of wrong and shame,
Her freedom never more an empty name,
And all her scattered stars as one again.



Ina Donna Coolbrith's other poems:
  1. Meadowlarks
  2. Bret Harte (A stir of pines in the forest)
  3. Siesta
  4. Two
  5. At the Close


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