Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE MARCHING FEET, by MAXWELL STRUTHERS BURT



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THE MARCHING FEET, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Drums, drums, drums to the fore!
Last Line: The far-off calling of a drum!
Alternate Author Name(s): Burt, Struthers
Subject(s): Army Life; Drums; Marching & Marches; Musical Instruments; Drills & Minor Tactics


DRUMS, drums, drums to the fore!
The rattle of drums and the tramp of feet:
Throbbing drums and pulsing beat,
Hurrying drums and hurrying feet,
Like the gathering winds of a storm.
O, men of the army of marching feet,
O, ye who came when your country cried,
Your footsteps haunt each lane, each street,
Your blood still makes the meadows sweet,
And the uplands where ye died!
I have heard ye marching in noonday heat,
Through country roads where the dust turns gray
The hanging boughs of the trees that meet
Overhead, and far away,
I have heard, as ye pass at night along
The still white lanes, your bugle-song.
Stern young faces and brave set lips,
Lips firm set with the vows ye swore,
Ye knocked with joyous shining eyes
As lovers knock at a garden door
And plucked the flower of sacrifice,
The blood-red rose of war.
Still to your lips the blossoms bend,
Nor careless time can crush the eternal flowers,
Nor rend from you the quiet, waiting hours
Of snows and suns and stars and showers,
Till the last muster call startles the hills.
But we? — aye, what of us?
Have we forgot the star-touched, echoing past in this so brief a day?

Dull-souled forgot in lesser strife
The rapt young visions held more dear than life?
Hearing no more beneath the noises of the street
The quiet passing of your feet?
Yea, ye are gone, ye men of sterner race,
Ye youths that met death face to face and triumphéd,
No more the hills reëcho to your tread,
No more on uplands bloom the flowers red;
And we your sons and childrens' sons
Answer no more the restless calling of the guns,
Nor stir within our sleep for visions,
Gone is the quickening young desire for splendid things,
The dreams that break and quiver into fire,
On Summer nights when earth is tremulant with unseen wings.
What plea is ours down the long courts of unrelenting time?
That it were right? That visions, old, unfit, outworn,
Have served their making and must not be borne,
A chaff of burdens on our giant destiny?
For we are free;
Free, great, and strong,
To dare new Gods with casual, irreverent song,
And build our temples in the market-place of wrong.
No longer need to make the haunted wilderness a home,
And "but a little path to God," the seas:
No longer need to bid men turn with awkward plough the loam
And cry, "Here sow I, Lord, with simple psalteries
In faith and honest deeds
The strong clean pregnant seeds
Of this Thy swelling harvest yet to come."
Yea, we are fat and grown white with pride!
No need of prayer; nor any need of sowing?
For the splendor loved by Babylon,
For the purpled pride of Tyre,
We have worked and we have won,
Is the strife, then, through and done?
Shall we take our ease like potentates
Nor heed the altar's fire?
For the riches that were Nineveh's,
For the wares of Ascalon,
For the high-piled heaps of rotting myrrhs,
Shall we pawn our destiny for theirs?
Shall the earth shake, quick with chariots,
As our Gods, brute Gods, drive on?
No need of dreams? We, who are born of seers?
We who are very children of a dream?
My heart stirs within me like a drum
And I hear far off the marching of a host.

Attend, O Lord of Visions, to our prayer!

May we know pain, O God, may we know pain,
And pave with blood and tears our way
Along the old forgotten path again
To find the sweet strength of a younger day.

Lo, Thou hast given us a land more dear
Than that Thou promiséd to him of old,
And we have made of it a drear
Parched place of tongues and bartering gold.

Yea, we are strong, full strong and great,
And in our hands we hold the sword of might,
But gone, O Lord, the dream to build our fate
A beacon flame and signal through the night.

Yea, gone are all the hopes that kept us young,
The visions, Thine, of unfulfilled desires,
And in decaying temples, far outflung,
Thy priests watch lonely by the dying fires.

O God, may we know pain, may we know pain,
And find with tears and blood the path again!

Do we forget?
Forget so utterly?
Nay, it is not so!
Only, for moments does it seem
That we have lost the splendor of our dream.
We know, had we but time to heed, or hush the busy whisperings of greed,
That stirring, pulsing, throbbing, slow,
Implacable would rise the tread
Of the stern ever-marching army of the dead.
We — we are still the visioned great-souled breed!
Not like the older nations from decay,
Not wearily we sin,
But heedless, reckless, children at play,
Straying, we have a little lost our way,
Nor see as yet the darkness folding in:
Aye — for in the end, sore torn and bruised, we,
Like long-lost children, will return to Thee;
Like coast-born children weary for the sea.
And then: —
Ah, then once more his joy who seeing dim
Through clinging mists, dear land, thy wave-swept shores,
Knew in that moment, resting on his oars,
That thou mean'st peace and dreams to him:
And then: —
Ah, then once more the sword-like keen delight
Of good green shores and sun-swept, wind warm day,
When that gay band and grave adventurous knight
Dropt ready anchor in the welcome bay.
O land, dear land, how sweet thou wert to look upon!
Behind, behind us lay the weary leagues of sea,
For God had led us through the waters
Through the perils of the waters,
Through the calling, raging waters,
God had led us forth to thee.
And the rose bloomed in the covers,
There where the out shore sprung,
With the silence brooding over,
A balm to the weary rover,
While the rivers sang like lovers
When the heart of the world is young.

Then the hills called, bidding us seek further,
Blue with the Summer's waning fire,
"Ye must go! Ye must go! For ye grow! For ye grow!
And beyond us lies the land of your desire."
So we followed;
The forest aisles grew murmurous with our tread;
On the hills we built our altars,
In the valleys laid our dead;
Before our silent moccasins the haunted silence fled.
Beyond, still, still beyond, lay the summoning sea of leaves,
To the quiet folk who followed fell the garnering of our sheaves.
Could we watch with patient eyes
Red-gold sunsets paint the skies?
Could we hear the call unminding
Of an empire for our finding?
North and South and West we trailed
Where the wild geese honking sailed;
Where the aloe blossoms paled
In the living, silent sands;
Where the leaping waters sang,
And the hills with music rang;
In our eyes the wide dim distance,
On our cheeks the smoke-blown dust,
In our hearts the haunting summons,
"Build ye must! Aye, build ye must!"
And our cursing was but praying to a God who understands,
And our sweat was goodly incense with the worship of our hands.

So we dreamed and prayed and builded for the future.
O beautiful army of those who live;
O shining host of those unborn;
Into your hands the dead years give
The battle standards stained and torn,
Save where aloft unfading gleams
The starlike glory of old dreams.

Hark! Can ye hear above the hum, the clang'rous hum,
The calling of a drum —
The far-off calling of a drum!





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