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The Bivouac of the Dead

by Theodore O'Hara (1847)

    The muffled drum's sad roll has beat
    The soldier's last tattoo;
    No more on Life's parade shall meet
    That brave and fallen few.
    On Fame's eternal camping-ground
    Their silent tents are spread,
    And Glory guards, with solemn round,
    The bivouac of the dead.

    No rumor of the foe's advance
    Now swells upon the wind;
    No troubled thought at midnight haunts
    Of loved ones left behind;
    No vision of the morrow's strife
    The warrior's dream alarms;
    No braying horn nor screaming fife
    At dawn shall call to arms.

    Their shivered swords are red with rust,
    Their plumed heads are bowed;
    Their haughty banner, trailed in dust,
    Is now their martial shroud.
    And plenteous funeral tears have washed
    The red stains from each brow,
    And the proud forms, by battle gashed,
    Are free from anguish now.

    The neighing troop, the flashing blade,
    The bugle's stirring blast,
    The charge, the dreadful cannonade,
    The din and shout, are past;
    Nor war's wild note nor glory's peal
    Shall thrill with fierce delight
    Those breasts that nevermore may feel
    The rapture of the fight.

    Like the fierce northern hurricane
    That sweeps his great plateau,
    Flushed with the triumph yet to gain,
    Came down the serried foe.
    Who heard the thunder of the fray
    Break o'er the field beneath,
    Knew well the watchword of that day
    Was “Victory or Death”.

    Long had the doubtful conflict raged
    O'er all that stricken plain,
    For never fiercer fight had waged
    The vengeful blood of Spain;
    And still the storm of battle blew,
    Still swelled the gory tide;
    Not long, our stout old chieftain knew,
    Such odds his strength could bide.

    'Twas in that hour his stern command
    Called to a martyr's grave
    The flower of his beloved land,
    The nation's flag to save.
    By rivers of their fathers' gore
    His first-born laurels grew,
    And well he deemed the sons would pour
    Their lives for glory too.

    Full many a norther's breath has swept.
    O'er Angostura's plain,
    And long the pitying sky has wept
    Above its mouldered slain.
    The raven's scream, or eagle's flight,
    Or shepherd's pensive lay,
    Alone awakes each sullen height
    That frowned o'er that dread fray.

    Sons of the Dark and Bloody Ground,
    Ye must not slumber there,
    Where stranger steps and tongues resound
    Along the heedless air.
    Your own proud land's heroic soil
    Shall be your fitter grave:
    She claims from war his richest spoil--
    The ashes of her brave.

    Thus 'neath their parent turf they rest,
    Far from the gory field,
    Borne to a Spartan mother's breast
    On many a bloody shield;
    The sunshine of their native sky
    Smiles sadly on them here,
    And kindred eyes and hearts watch by
    The heroes' sepulchre.

    Rest on, embalmed and sainted dead!
    Dear as the blood ye gave;
    No impious footstep here shall tread
    The herbage of your grave;
    Nor shall your glory be forgot
    While Fame her record keeps,
    Or Honor points the hallowed spot
    Where Valor proudly sleeps.

    You marble minstrel's voiceless stone
    In deathless song shall tell,
    When many a vanished age hath flown,
    The story how ye fell;
    Nor wreck, nor change, nor winter's light
    Nor Time's remorseless doom,
    Shall dim one ray of glory's light
    That gilds your deathless tomb.