July 27, 2012

Brownell: Father, they died for you!

Civil War poet Henry Howard Brownell dated his poem "One Word" as July 27, 1862:

Speak to us, to-day, O Father!
   Our hearts are strangely stirred —
A Nation's Life is hanging
   On a yet unspoken word.

Long, by the hearthstone corner,
   May the aged grandame sit,
And toil, with trembling fingers,
   That another sock be knit;

Men may march and manoeuvre,
   And camp on fields of death —
The Iron Saurians wheel and dart,
   And thunder their fiery breath;

But one brave word is wanting —
   The word whose tone should start
The pulses of men to flamelets
   Thrilling through every heart! 

That one word Brownell is searching for is, apparently, a word of approval. He recalls the battles thus far, including Shiloh and the Cumberland, and the actions of the Varuna. He believes "they have shown what men may do, / They have proved how men may die." Perhaps the word, then, is assurance that they have not died needlessly:

Spirits, a hundred of thousands,
   Eager, and bold, and true,
Gone to make good one brave, just word —
   Father, they died for you!

Died, in tempest of battle,
   Died, in the cot's dull pain —
Let their ghosts be glad in heaven,
   That they died — and not in vain!

And never fear but the living
   Shall stand, to the last, by thee —
They shall yet make up the million,
   And another, if need there be!

But fail not, as thy trust is heaven,
   To breathe the word shall wake
The holiest fire of a Nation's heart —
   Speak it, for Christ's dear sake!

Speak it, our earthly Father!
   In the Name of His, and smile
At one breath more of the Viper
   Whose fangs shall crash on the file!

The Angel-Songs are forever,
   The Snake can hiss but his day—
Speak, O Shepherd of Peoples!
   And fold earth's blessings for aye.

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