Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE DESERTER, by LETITIA ELIZABETH LANDON



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THE DESERTER, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Alas, for the bright promise of our youth!
Last Line: Shot for desertion!
Alternate Author Name(s): L. E. L.; Maclean, Letitia
Subject(s): Desertion, Military


Alas, for the bright promise of our youth!
How soon the golden chords of hope are broken,
How soon we find that dreams we trusted most
Are very shadows!

'TWAS a sweet summer morn, -- the lark had just
Sprung from the clover bower around her nest,
And pour'd her blithe song to the clouds: the sun
Shed his first crimson o'er the dark grey walls
Of the old church, and stain'd the sparkling panes
Of ivy-cover'd windows. The damp grass,
That waved in wild luxuriance round the graves,
Was white with dew, but early steps had been
And left a fresh green trace round yonder tomb:
'Twas a plain stone, but graven with a name
That many stopp'd to read -- a soldier's name --
And two were kneeling by it, one who had
Been weeping; she was widow to the brave
Upon whose quiet bed her tears were falling.
From off her cheek the rose of youth had fled,
But beauty still was there, that soften'd grief,
Whose bitterness is gone, but which was felt
Too deeply for forgetfulness; her look,
Fraught with high feelings and intelligence,
And such as might beseem the Roman dame
Whose children died for liberty, was made
More soft and touching by the patient smile
Which piety had given the unearthly brow,
Which Guido draws when he would form a saint
Whose hopes are fix'd on Heaven, but who has yet
Some earthly feelings binding them to life.
Her arm was leant upon a graceful youth,
The hope, the comfort, of her widowhood;
He was departing from her, and she led
The youthful soldier to his father's tomb --
As in the visible presence of the dead
She gave her farewell blessing; and her voice
Lost its so tremulous accents as she bade
her child tread in that father's steps, and told
How brave, how honour'd, he had been. But when
She did entreat him to remember all
Her hopes were centred in him, that he was
The stay of her declining years, that he
Might be the happiness of her old age,
Or bring her down with sorrow to the grave,
Her words grew inarticulate, and sobs
Alone found utterance; and he, whose cheek
Was flush'd with eagerness, whose ardent eye
Gave animated promise of the fame
That would be his, whose ear already rang
With the loud trumpet's war-song, felt these dreams
Fade for a moment, and almost renounced
The fields he panted for, since they must cost
Such tears as these. The churchyard left, they pass'd
Down by a hawthorn hedge, where the sweet May
Had shower'd its white luxuriance, intermix'd
With crimson clusters of the wilding rose,
And link'd with honeysuckle. O'er the path
Many an ancient oak and stately elm
Spread its green canopy. How EDWARD'S eye
Linger'd on each familiar sight, as if
Even to things inanimate he would bid
A last farewell! They reach'd the cottage gate:
His horse stood ready; many, too, were there,
Who came to say good-by, and kindly wish
To the young soldier health and happiness.
It is a sweet, albeit most painful, feeling
To know we are regretted. "Farewell," said,
And oft repeated, one last wild embrace
Given to his pale mother, who stood there,
Her cold hands press'd upon a brow as cold,
In all the bursting heart's full agony --
One last, last kiss, -- he sprang upon his horse,
And urged his utmost speed with spur and rein.
He is past ... out of sight....

The muffled drum is rolling, and the low
Notes of the death-march float upon the wind,
And stately steps are pacing round that square
With slow and measur'd tread; but every brow
Is darken'd with emotion, and stern eyes,
That look'd unshrinking on the face of death,
When met in battle, are now moist with tears.
The silent ring is form'd, and in the midst
Stands the deserter! Can this be the same,
The young, the gallant EDWARD? and are these
The laurels promised in his early dreams?
Those fetter'd hands, this doom of open shame?
Alas! for young and passionate spirits! Soon
False lights will dazzle. He had madly join'd
The rebel banner! Oh 'twas pride to link
His fate with ERIN'S patriot few, to fight
For liberty or the grave! But he was now
A prisoner; yet there he stood, as firm
As though his feet were not upon the tomb:
His cheek was pale as marble, and as cold;
But his lip trembled not, and his dark eyes
Glanced proudly round. But when they bared his breast
For the death-shot, and took a portrait thence,
He clench'd his hands, and gasp'd, and one deep sob
Of agony burst from him; and he hid
His face awhile -- his mother's look was there.
He could not steel his soul when he recall'd
The bitterness of her despair. It pass'd --
That moment of wild anguish; he knelt down;
That sunbeam shed its glory over one,
Young, proud, and brave, nerved in deep energy;
The next fell over cold and bloody clay....

There is a deep-voiced sound from yonder vale,
Which ill accords with the sweet music made
By the light birds nestling by those green elms;
And, a strange contrast to the blossom'd thorns,
Dark plumes are waving, and a silent hearse
Is winding through that lane. They told it bore
A widow, who died of a broken heart:
Her child, her soul's last treasure, -- he had been
Shot for desertion!





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