In honor of Memorial Day: Poetry of War

In honor of Memorial Day: Poetry of War

Charge of the Light Brigade

by Lord Tennyson

Half a league, half a league,
        Half a league onward,
    All in the valley of Death
        Rode the six hundred.
    “Forward, the Light Brigade!
    Charge for the guns!” he said:
    Into the valley of Death
        Rode the six hundred.
    “Forward, the Light Brigade!”
    Was there a man dismay’d?
    Not tho’ the soldier knew
        Some one had blunder’d:
    Theirs not to make reply,
    Theirs not to reason why,
    Theirs but to do and die:
    Into the valley of Death
        Rode the six hundred.

    Cannon to right of them,
    Cannon to left of them,
    Cannon in front of them
        Volley’d and thunder’d;
    Storm’d at with shot and shell,
    Boldly they rode and well,
    Into the jaws of Death,
    Into the mouth of Hell
        Rode the six hundred.
    Flash’d all their sabres bare,
    Flash’d as they turn’d in air
    Sabring the gunners there,
    Charging an army, while
        All the world wonder’d;
    Plunged in the battery-smoke
    Right thro’ the line they broke;
    Cossack and Russian
    Reel’d from the sabre-stroke
        Shatter’d and sunder’d.
    Then they rode back, but not,
        Not the six hundred.

    Cannon to right of them,
    Cannon to left of them,
    Cannon behind them
        Volley’d and thunder’d;
    Stormed at with shot and shell,
    While horse and hero fell,
    They that had fought so well
    Came through the jaws of Death
    Back from the mouth of Hell,
    All that was left of them,
        Left of six hundred.

    When can their glory fade!
    Oh the wild charge they made!
        All the world wondered.
    Honor the charge they made!
    Honor the Light Brigade,
        Noble six hundred!

At the Cannon’s Mouth

by Herman Melville

 Palely intent, he urged his keel

  Full on the guns, and touched the spring;
Himself involved in the bolt he drove
Timed with the armed hull’s shot that stove
His shallop—die or do!
Into the flood his life he threw,
  Yet lives—unscathed—a breathing thing
To marvel at.
              He has his fame;
But that mad dash at death, how name?
Had Earth no charm to stay the Boy
  From the martyr-passion? Could he dare
Disdain the Paradise of opening joy
  Which beckons the fresh heart every where?
Life has more lures than any girl
  For youth and strength; puts forth a share
Of beauty, hinting of yet rarer store;
And ever with unfathomable eyes,
    Which baffingly entice,
Still strangely does Adonis draw.
And life once over, who shall tell the rest?
Life is, of all we know, God’s best.
What imps these eagles then, that they
Fling disrespect on life by that proud way
In which they soar above our lower clay.
Pretense of wonderment and doubt unblest:
  In Cushing’s eager deed was shown
  A spirit which brave poets own—
That scorn of life which earns life’s crown;
  Earns, but not always wins; but he—
  The star ascended in his nativity.
War Music
By Henry Van Dyke

    Break off! Dance no more!
      Danger is at the door.
      Music is in arms.
    To signal war’s alarms,

Hark, a sudden trumpet calling
  Over the hill
Why are you calling, trumpet, calling?
  What is your will?

  Men, men, men!
Men who are ready to fight
For their country’s life, and the right.
Of a liberty-loving land to be
  Free, free, free!
Free from a tyrant’s chain,
Free from dishonor’s stain,
Free to guard and maintain
All that her fathers fought for,
All that her sons have wrought for,
  Resolute, brave, and free!

  Call again, trumpet, call again,
      Call up the men!
  Do you hear the storm of cheers
  Mingled with the women’s tears
And the tramp, tramp, tramp of marching feet?
  Do you hear the throbbing drum
  As the hosts of battle come
Keeping time, time, time to its beat?
  O Music give a song
  To make their spirit strong
For the fury of the tempest they must meet.

    The hoarse roar
    Of the monster guns;
    And the sharp bark
    Of the lesser guns;
    The whine of the shells,
    The rifles’ clatter
    Where the bullets patter,
    The rattle, rattle, rattle
    Of the mitrailleuse in battle,
    And the yells
    Of the men who charge through hells
    Where the poison gas descends.
    And the bursting shrapnel rends
    Limb from limb
    In the dim
    Chaos and clamor of the strife
    Where no man thinks of his life
    But only of fighting through,
    Blindly fighting through, through!

  ‘Tis done
  At last!
  The victory won,
The dissonance of warfare past!

  O Music mourn the dead
  Whose loyal blood was shed,
And sound the taps for every hero slain;
  Then lend into the song
  That made their spirit strong,
And tell the world they did not die in vain.

Thank God we can see, in the glory of morn,
  The invincible flag that our fathers defended;
And our hearts can repeat what the heroes have sworn,
  That war shall not end till the war-lust is ended,
Then the bloodthirsty sword shall no longer be lord
  Of the nations oppressed by the conqueror’s horde,
But the banners of freedom shall peacefully wave
  O’er the world of the free and the lands of the brave.

The Blue and the Gray

by Francis M. Finch

By the flow of the inland river,
Whence the fleets of iron have fled,
Where the blades of the grave-grass quiver,
Asleep are the ranks of the dead:
Under the sod and the dew,

Waiting the Judgment Day:
Under the one, the Blue ;
Under the other, the Gray.

These in the robings of glory,
Those in the gloom of defeat,
All with the battle-blood gory,
In the dusk of eternity meet:
Under the sod and the dew,

Waiting the Judgment Day:
Under the laurel, the Blue;
Under the willow, the Gray.
From the silence of sorrowful hours,

The desolate mourners go,
Lovingly laden with flowers,
Alike for the friend and the foe:
Under the sod and the dew.

Waiting the Judgment Day:
Under the roses, the Blue ;
Under the lilies, the Gray.

So, with an equal splendor
The morning sun-rays fall,
With a touch impartially tender,
On the blossoms blooming for all:
Under the sod and the dew,

Waiting the Judgment Day:
Broidered with gold, the Blue;
Mellowed with gold, the Gray.

So, when the summer calleth,
On forest and field of grain,
With an equal murmur falleth
The cooling drip of the rain:-
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the Judgment Day:

Wet with the rain, the Blue;
Wet with the rain, the Gray.

Sadly, but not with upbraiding,
The generous deed was done.
In the storms of the years that are fading
No braver battle was won:
Under the sod and the dew,

Waiting the Judgment Day:
Under the blossoms, the Blue;
Under the garlands, the Gray.

No more shall the war-cry sever,
Or the winding rivers be red :
They banish our anger forever

When they laurel the graves of our dead!
Under the sod and the dew,

Waiting the Judgment Day:
Love and tears for the Blue;
Tears and love for the Gray.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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