Ella Wheeler Wilcox

5 November 1850 - 30 October 1919 / Johnstown Center / Rock County / Wisconsin

The Camp Fire

When night hung low and dew fell damp,
There fell athwart the shadows
The gleaming watchfires of the camp,
Like glow-worms on the meadows.
The sentinel his measured beat
With measured tread was keeping,
While like bronze statues at his feet
Lay tired soldiers, sleeping.
On some worn faces of the men
There crept a homesick yearning,
Which made it almost seem again,
The child-look was returning.
While on full many a youthful brow,
Till now to care a stranger,
The premature grave lines told how
They had grown old through danger.
One, in his slumber, laughed with joy,
The laughing echoes mocked him,
He thought beside his baby boy
He sat and gaily rocked him.
O pitying angels! Thou wert kind
To end this brief elysian,
He found what he no more could find
Save in a dreamer's vision.
The clear note of a mocking bird-
That star of sound-came falling
Down thro' the night; one, wakeful, heard
And answered to the calling,
And then upon the ear there broke
That sweet, pathetic measure,
That song that wakes-as then it woke,
Such mingled pain and pleasure.
One voice at first, and then the sound
Pulsed like a great bell's swinging,
'Tenting to-night on the old camp ground,'
The whole roused camp was singing.
The sense of warfare's discontent
Gave place to warfare's glory;
Right merrily the swift hours went
With song, and jest, and story.
They sang the song of Old John Brown,
Whose march goes on forever;
It made them thirsty for renown,
It fired them with endeavor.
So much of that great heart lives still,
So much of that great spirit-
His very name shoots like a thrill
Through all men when they hear it.
They found in tales of march and fight
New courage as they listened,
And while they watched the weird camp-light,
And while the still stars glistened,
Like some stern comrade's voice, there broke
And swept from hill to valley
'Til all the sleeping echoes woke,-
The bugle's call to rally!
'To arms! to arms! the foe is near!'
Ah, brave hearts were ye equal
To hearing through without one fear
The whole tale's bloody sequel?
The laurel wreath, the victor's cry,
These are not all of glory;
The gaping wound, the glazing eye,
They, too, are in the story.
And when again their tents were spread,
And by campfires they slumbered,
The missing faces of the dead
The living ones outnumbered.
And yet, their memories animate
The hearts that still survive them,
And holy seems the task, and great,
For one hour to revive them.
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