Pieces People Ask For/The Old Canteen
THE OLD CANTEEN.
Send it up to the garret? Well, no, what's the harm,
If it hangs like a horseshoe to serve as a charm?
Had its day? to be sure. Matches ill with things here!
Shall I sack the old friend just because it is queer?
Thing of beauty 'tis not; but a joy none the less,
As my hot lips remember its old-time caress,
And I think on the solace once gurgling between
My lips from that old battered tin canteen.
It has hung by my side in the long, weary tramp;
Been my friend in the bivouac, barracks, and camp,
In the triumph, the capture, advance, and retreat,
More than light to my path, more than guide to my feet.
Sweeter nectar ne'er flowed, howe'er sparkling and cold,
From out chalice of silver or goblet of gold,
For a Ring or emperor, princess or queen,
Than to me, from the mouth of that old canteen.
It has cheered the desponding on many a night,
Till their laughing eyes gleamed in the camp's fire-light;
Whether guns stood at silence, or boomed at short range,
It was always on duty, though 'twould not be strange
If in somnolent periods, just after "taps,"
Some colonel or captain disturbed at his naps
May have felt a suspicion — that spirits unseen
Had somehow bedeviled that old canteen.
But I think on the time when in lulls of the strife
It has called the far look in dim eyes back to life,
Helped to stanch the quick blood beginning to pour,
Softened broad, gaping wounds that were stiffened and sore,
Moistened thin, livid lips, so despairing of breath,
They could only speak thanks in the quiver of death.
If an angel of mercy ever hovered between
This world and the next, 'twas that old canteen.
Then banish it not, as a profitless thing;
Were it hung in a palace, it well might swing,
To tell in its mute, allegorical way
How the citizen volunteer won the day
How he bravely, unflinchingly, grandly won,
And how, when the death-dealing work was done,
'Twas as easy his passion from war to wean
As his mouth from the lips of the old canteen.
By and by, when all hate for the rage with the Bars,
Is forgotten in love for the "Stripes and the Stars,"
When Columbia rules every thing solid and sole
From her one ship-canal to the ice at the pole,
When the Grand-Army men have obeyed the last call,
And the Mayflowers and violets bloom for us all,
Then, away in some garret, the cobwebs may screen
My battered, old, cloth-covered tin canteen.