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Alas, for the bright promise of our youth!
How soon the golden chords of hope are broken,
How soon we find that dreams we trusted most
Are very shadows.
'TWAS a sweet summer morn,--the lark had just
Sprang from the clover bower around her nest,
And poured her blithe song to the clouds; the sun
Shed his first crimson o'er the dark grey walls
Of the old church, and stained the sparkling panes
Of ivy-covered windows. The damp grass,
That waved in wild luxuriance round the graves,
Was white with dew, but early steps had been
And left a fresh green trace round yonder tomb:
'Twas a plain stone, but graven with a name
That many stopped to read--a Soldier's name--
And two were kneeling by it, one who had
Been weeping; she was widow to the brave,
Upon whose quiet bed her tears were falling.
From off her cheek the rose of youth had fled,
But beauty still was there, that softened grief,
Whose bitterness is gone, but which was felt
Too deeply for forgetfulness; her look,
Fraught with high feelings and intelligence,
And such as might beseem the Roman dame
Whose children died for liberty, was made
More soft and touching by the patient smile
Which piety had given the unearthly brow,
Which Guido draws when he would form a saint
Whose hopes are fixed on Heaven, but who has yet
Some earthly feelings binding them to life.
Her arm was leant upon a graceful youth,
The hope, the comfort of her widowhood;
He was departing from her, and she led
The youthful soldier to his father's tomb--
As in the visible presence of the dead
She gave her farewell blessing; and her voice
Lost its so tremulous accents as she bade
Her child tread in that father's steps, and told
How brave, how honoured he had been. But when
She did entreat him to remember all
Her hopes were centered in him, that he was
The stay of her declining years, that he
Might be the happiness of her old age,
Or bring her down with sorrow to the grave,
Her words grew inarticulate, and sobs
Alone found utterance; and he whose cheek
Was flushed with eagerness, whose ardent eye
Gave animated promise of the fame
That would be his, whose early already rang
With the loud trumpet's war song, felt these dreams
Fade for a moment, and almost renounced
The fields he panted for, since they must cost
Such tears as these. The churchyard left, they
Down by a hawthorn hedge, where the sweet May
Had showered its white luxuriance, intermixed
With crimson clusters of the wilding rose,
And linked with honeysuckle. O'er the path
Many an ancient oak and stately elm
Spread its green canopy. How EDWARD'S eye
Lingered on each familiar sight, as if
Even to things inanimate he would bid
A last farewell! They reached the cottage gate;
His horse stood ready; many, too, were there,
Who came to say Good-by, and kindly wish
To the young soldier health and happiness.
It is a sweet, albeit most painful, feeling
To know we are regretted. "Farewell" said
And oft repeated, one last wild embrace
Given to his pale mother, who stood there,
Her cold hands prest upon a brow as cold,
In all the bursting heart's full agony--
One last last kiss--he sprang upon his horse,
And urged his utmost speed with spur and rein.
He is past . . . out of sight. . . .
The muffled drum is rolling, and the low
Notes of the death-march float upon the wind,
And stately steps are pacing round that square
With slow and measured tread; but every brow
Is darkened with emotion, and stern eyes,
That looked unshrinking on the face of death,
When met in battle, are now moist with tears.
The silent ring is formed, and in the midst
Stands the Deserter! Can this be the same,
The young, the gallant EDWARD? and are these
The laurels promised in his early dreams?
Those fettered hands, this doom of open shame!
Alas, for young and passionate spirits! Soon
False lights will dazzle. He had madly joined
The rebel banner! Oh 'twas pride to link
His fate with ERIN'S patriot few, to fight
For liberty or the grave! But he was now
A prisoner; yet there he stood, as firm
As though his feet were not upon the tomb:
His cheek was pale as marble, and as cold;
But his lip trembled not, and his dark eyes
Glanced proudly round. But when they bared
For the death-shot, and took a portrait thence,
He clenched his hands, and gasped, and one deep sob
Of agony burst from him; and he hid
His face awhile--his mother's look was there.
He could not steel his soul when he recalled
The bitterness of her despair. It passed--
That moment of wild anguish; he knelt down;
That sunbeam shed its glory over one,
Young, proud, and brave, nerved in deep energy;
The next fell over cold and bloody clay. . . .
There is a deep-voiced sound from yonder vale
Which ill accords with the sweet music made
By the light birds nestling by those green elms,
And a strange contrast to the blossomed thorns.
Dark plumes are waving, and a silent hearse
Is winding through that lane. They told it bore
A widow, who died of a broken heart:
Her child, her soul's last treasure,--he had been
Shot for desertion!