All Quiet along the Potomac and other poems/On the Shores of Tennessee

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ON THE SHORES OF TENNESSEE.


MOVE my arm-chair, faithful Pompey,
 In the sunshine bright and strong,
For this world is fading, Pompey—
    Massa won't be with you long;
And I fain would hear the south wind
    Bring once more the sound to me
Of the wavelets softly breaking
    On the shores of Tennessee.

"Mournful though the ripples murmur
    As they still the story tell,
How no vessels float the banner
     That I've loved so long and well,
I shall listen to their music,
     Dreaming that again I see
Stars and Stripes on sloop and shallop
     Sailing up the Tennessee.

"And, Pompey, while old massa's waiting
     For Death's last despatch to come,
If that exiled starry banner
     Should come proudly sailing home,
You shall greet it, slave no longer;
     Voice and hand shall both be free
That shout and point to Union colors
     On the waves of Tennessee."

"Massa's berry kind to Pompey,
     But ole darkey's happy here,

Where he's tended corn and cotton
     For dese many a long-gone year.
Over yonder missis' sleeping—
     No one tends her grave like me:
Mebbe she would miss the flowers
     She used to love in Tennessee.

"'Pears like she was watching massa;
     If Pompey should beside him stay,
Mebbe she'd remember better
     How for him she used to pray—
Telling him that 'way up yonder
     White as snow his soul would be,
Ransomed by the Lord of heaven,
     Out of life in Tennessee."

Silently the tears were rolling
     Down the poor old dusky face,
As he stepped behind his master,
     In his long-accustomed place.
Then a silence fell around them
     As they gazed on rock and tree,
Pictured in the placid waters
     Of the rolling Tennessee.

Master, dreaming of the battle
     Where he fought by Marion's side,
When he bid the haughty Tarleton
     Stoop his lordly crest of pride;
Man, remembering how yon sleeper
     Once he held upon his knee,

Ere she loved the gallant soldier,
        Ralph Vervain of Tennessee.

Still the south wind fondly lingers
        'Mid the veteran's silver hair;
Still the bondman, close beside him,
        Stands behind the old arm-chair;
With his dark-hued hand uplifted,
        Shading eyes, he bends to see
Where the woodland, boldly jutting,
        Turns aside the Tennessee.

Thus he watches; cloud-born shadows
        Glide from tree to mountain-crest,
Softly creeping, aye and ever,
        To the river's yielding breast.
Ha! above the foliage yonder,
        Something flutters wild and free!
"Massa! Massa! Hallelujah!
        The flag's come back to Tennessee!"

"Pompey, hold me on your shoulder,
        Help me stand on foot once more,
That I may salute the colors
        As they pass my cabin-door.
Here's the paper signed that frees you,—
        Give a freeman's shout with me!
'God and Union!' be our watchword
        Evermore in Tennessee!

Then the trembling voice grew fainter,
        And the limbs refused to stand;

One prayer to Jesus—and the soldier
     Glided to that better land.
When the flag went down the river
     Man and master both were free,
While the ring-dove's note was mingled
     With the rippling Tennessee.