Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE MARCHING-SONG, by ROBERT UNDERWOOD JOHNSON



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THE MARCHING-SONG, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Lonely the forest to him who threads it without a companion
Last Line: I know you are there by the grasp of your hands and the cheer of your voices.


Lonely the forest to him who threads it without a companion;
Lonely the sea when its lonely fog lifts upon sail-less horizon;
Lonelier populous city to one without comrades or kindred;
Lonelier still when the moonlight -- in language invented by lovers --
Speaks of the nights that are gone and the places it, only, remembers.

Thus, longing for forest or sea, I sat, in the heat of the city,
My only companion the friend to whom I was writing my envy,
When out of the distance there floated a beautiful choral of voices.
Nearer and nearer they came while I, from my balcony leaning,
Drank with the thirst of the desert the gladdening draught of the music.
Twenty the count of the striplings who marched with a rhythmical footfall,
Joyous the trebles, exultant the tenors, and solemn the basses, --
They and their song of a harmony perfect and full and reciprocal,
Music that moistened the eyes long after the singers departed.

Who could they be -- thus to add to the beautiful night a new beauty?
Friends, of some serious purpose, united more strongly in singing.
Surely not sons of the rich, for the rich are united in nothing.
Riches divide, and scant is the friendship based only on plenty.
These were no roysterers breaking the rhythm of night with their discord,
Who find no diversion worth while that makes not unhappy their fellows;
Rather some guild of the poor returning from study or pleasure,
Stronger by toil or by rest, each with the strength of his fellows;
Buoyant with youth, glad with hope and in sympathy banded,
Marching serenely as one, helpfully, shoulder to shoulder.

Back to my letter I went and with shame I destroyed my repinings.
I thought how the song would have fitted the eloquent vision of Whitman, --
Pondered the spirit of comradeship shown in these marchers courageous.

Lonely though sometime it seems, our wine-press of toil or of sorrow,
Brothers, we move to one ultimate goal, in invisible phalanx,
In columns as wide as the world and as long as the slow-growing ages.
I know you are there by the grasp of your hands and the cheer of your voices.





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