Fifes and Drums/Enlisted
Have you heard the shiver of bodies hurled
Chest on crashing chest,
When thigh-bones snap like pistol shots
And men meet breast to breast?
Have you seen the feet of a maddened horse
Red-wet with the wine of war
And wondered in crushing a comrade's face
What you had killed him for?
Ever the sweep of the wave of men
On the reef of jagged death,
And frozen faces like cockle-shells
Where the breaker billoweth,
The out-flung arms of a down-lipped boy
With his throat shot through—
Perhaps his shoulder brushed your own
Or he slept last night by you.
My fathers followed Washington
Into the forests dim,
The blood of Warren at Bunker Hill
In my veins runs from him,
When Perry crossed from ship to ship
They bent their arms to row,
They faced the Mexicans' livid hail
In the shattered Alamo.
The Susquehanna knew their tents,
They perished at Bull Run,
Shenandoah saw our dead
Staring at the sun;
We marched with Sherman to the sea,
Starved at Andersonville,
And one of us died by the barbed-wire fence
Under San Juan Hill.
You cannot change the written scroll
Nor alter the charted plan,
Ever must moaning women quail
And man make war on man;
Out of strength must sweetness come—
Out of sacrifice
We melt the metal and forge the key
To enter Paradise.
I thank my fathers for what they paid
On the altar of the years,
I thank the women who gave me birth
In agony and tears;
I could not wish that life should ask
One payment less from me,
And the bugle-call of the arming hosts
Sets their old passion free.