The Bivouac of the Dead (1847)

The muffled drum's sad roll has beat
The soldier's last tattoo;
No more on life's parade shall meet
The brave and daring few.
On Fame's eternal camping-ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And Glory guards with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.

No rumour of the foe's advance
Now swells upon the wind;
No troubled thought at midnight haunts
Of loved ones left behind;
No vision of the morrow's strife
The warrior's dream alarms;
No braying horn nor screaming fife
At dawn shall call to arms.

Their shivered swords are red with rust,
Their plumed heads are bowed;
Their haughty banner trailed in dust
Is now their martial shroud,
And plenteous funeral tears have washed
The red stains from each brow,
And their proud forms in battle gashed
Are free from anguish now.

The neighing steed, the flashing blade,
The trumpet's stirring blast,
The charge, the dreadful cannonade,
The din and shout are past;
No war's wild note, nor glory's peal,
Shall thrill with fierce delight
Those breasts that never more shall feel
The rapture of the fight.

Like the dread northern hurricane
That sweeps this broad plateau,
Flushed with the triumph yet to gain
Came down the serried foe;
Our heros felt the shock, and leapt
To meet them on the plain;
And long the pitying sky hath wept
Above our gallant slain.
Sons of our consecrated ground,
Ye must not slumber there,
Where stranger steps and tongues resound
Along the heedless air.
Your own proud land's heroic soil
Shall be your fitter grave;
She claims from War his richest spoil -
The ashes of her brave.

So 'neath their parent turf they rest,
Far from the gory field;
Borne to a Spartan mother's breast
On many a bloody shield;
The sunshine of their native sky
Smiles sadly on them here,
And kindred hearts and eyes watch by
The heroes' sepulcher.

Rest on, embalmed and sainted dead!
Dear as the blood you gave,
No impious footsteps here shall tread
The herbage of your grave;
Nor shall your glory be forgot
While Fame her record keeps,
Or Honor points the hallowed spot
Where Valor proudly sleeps.

Yon marble minstrel's voiceless stone
In deathless songs shall tell,
When many a vanished age hath flown,
The story how ye fell;
Nor wreck, nor change, or winter's blight
Not Time's remorseless doom,
Shall dim one ray of holy light
That gilds your glorious tomb.

"The Bivouac of the Dead" is the best known of the works of Theodore O'Hara (1820-1867). He wrote it while walking in the Frankfort Cemetery following his return from the Mexican War and it was first read there at the dedication of a monument in 1850. He apparently revised it throughout his life and several versions were published during his lifetime. This version is from George W. Ranck's The Bivouac of the Dead and Its Author (1898). Portions of the poem appear on many military monuments, including one at the Frankfort Cemetery and at the Arlington National Cemetery.


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