Classic and Contemporary Poetry
THE SOLDIER, by JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY Poet's Biography
First Line: The soldier! - meek the title, yet
Last Line: The captain's high command.
Alternate Author Name(s): Johnson Of Boone, Benj. F.
Subject(s): Freedom; Monuments; Soldiers; War; Liberty
THE DEDICATION OF THE SOLDIERS' AND SAILORS' MONUMENT, INDIANAPOLIS, MAY 15,
THE Soldier! -- meek the title, yet divine:
Therefore, with reverence, as with wild acclaim,
We fain would honor in exalted line
The glorious lineage of the glorious name:
The Soldier. -- Lo, he ever was and is,
Our Country's high custodian, by right
Of patriot blood that brims that heart of his
With fiercest love, yet honor infinite,
The Soldier -- within whose inviolate care
The Nation takes repose, -- her inmost fane
Of Freedom ever has its guardian there,
As have her forts and fleets on land and main:
The Heavenward Banner, as its ripples stream
In happy winds, or float in languid flow,
Through silken meshes ever sifts the gleam
Of sunshine on its Sentinel below.
The Soldier! -- Why, the very utterance
Is music -- as of rallying bugles, blent
With blur of drums and cymbals and the chants
Of battle-hymns that shake the continent! --
The thunder-chorus of a world is stirred
To awful, universal jubilee, --
Yet ever through it, pure and sweet, are heard
The prayers of Womanhood, and Infancy.
Even as a fateful tempest sudden loosed
Upon our senses, so our thoughts are blown
Back where The Soldier battled, nor refused
A grave all nameless in a clime unknown. --
The Soldier -- though, perchance, worn, old and gray;
The Soldier -- though, perchance, the merest lad, --
The Soldier -- though he gave his life away,
Hearing the shout of "Victory," was glad;
Ay, glad and grateful, that in such a cause
His veins were drained at Freedom's holy shrine --
Rechristening the land -- as first it was, --
His blood poured thus in sacramental sign
Of new baptism of the hallowed name
"My Country" -- now on every lip once more
And blest of God with still enduring fame. --
This thought even then The Soldier gloried o'er.
The dying eyes upraised in rapture there, --
As, haply, he remembered how a breeze
Once swept his boyish brow and tossed his hair,
Under the fresh bloom of the orchard-trees --
When his heart hurried, in some wistful haste
Of ecstasy, and his quick breath was wild
And balmy-sharp and chilly-sweet to taste, --
And he towered godlike, though a trembling child!
Again, through luminous mists, he saw the skies'
Far fields white-tented; and in gray and blue
And dazzling gold, he saw vast armies rise
And fuse in fire -- from which, in swiftest view,
The Old Flag soared, and friend and foe as one
Blent in an instant's vivid mirage. . . . Then
The eyes close smiling on the smiling sun
That changed the seer to a child again. --
And, even so, The Soldier slept. -- Our own! --
The Soldier of our plaudits, flowers and tears, --
O this memorial of bronze and stone --
His love shall outlast this a thousand years!
Yet, as the towering symbol bids us do, --
With soul saluting, as salutes the hand,
We answer as The Soldier answered to
The Captain's high command.
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