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A March In The Ranks, Hard-prest

Walt Whitman 1819 (West Hills) – 1892 (Camden)


  A MARCH in the ranks hard-prest, and the road unknown;
  A route through a heavy wood, with muffled steps in the darkness;
  Our army foil'd with loss severe, and the sullen remnant retreating;
  Till after midnight glimmer upon us, the lights of a dim-lighted
  building;
  We come to an open space in the woods, and halt by the dim-lighted
  building;
  'Tis a large old church at the crossing roads--'tis now an impromptu
  hospital;
  --Entering but for a minute, I see a sight beyond all the pictures
  and poems ever made:
  Shadows of deepest, deepest black, just lit by moving candles and
  lamps,
  And by one great pitchy torch, stationary, with wild red flame, and
  clouds of smoke;
  By these, crowds, groups of forms, vaguely I see, on the floor, some
  in the pews laid down; 10
  At my feet more distinctly, a soldier, a mere lad, in danger of
  bleeding to death, (he is shot in the abdomen;)
  I staunch the blood temporarily, (the youngster's face is white as a
  lily;)
  Then before I depart I sweep my eyes o'er the scene, fain to absorb
  it all;
  Faces, varieties, postures beyond description, most in obscurity,
  some of them dead;
  Surgeons operating, attendants holding lights, the smell of ether,
  the odor of blood;
  The crowd, O the crowd of the bloody forms of soldiers--the yard
  outside also fill'd;
  Some on the bare ground, some on planks or stretchers, some in the
  death-spasm sweating;
  An occasional scream or cry, the doctor's shouted orders or calls;
  The glisten of the little steel instruments catching the glint of the
  torches;
  These I resume as I chant--I see again the forms, I smell the
  odor; 20
  Then hear outside the orders given, Fall in, my men, Fall in;
  But first I bend to the dying lad--his eyes open--a half-smile gives
  he me;
  Then the eyes close, calmly close, and I speed forth to the darkness,
  Resuming, marching, ever in darkness marching, on in the ranks,
  The unknown road still marching.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

1:43 min read
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Walt Whitman

Walter "Walt" Whitman was an American poet, essayist and journalist. more…

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