September 1, 2012

Boker: Lay him low!

George Henry Boker recorded the Civil War from the poetic front lines. Though he was a published poet before and after the war, his lyrical tributes to battle remain his most well-known. One of his most moving, "Dirge for a Soldier," is dated September 1, 1862, and leaves the battle ground for the burial ground:

Close his eyes; his work is done!
   What to him is friend or foeman,
Rise of moon, or set of sun,
   Hand of man, or kiss of woman?
      Lay him low, lay him low,
      In the clover or the snow!
      What cares he? he cannot know:
            Lay him low!

As man may, he fought his fight.
   Proved his truth by his endeavor;
Let him sleep in solemn night,
   Sleep forever and forever.
      Lay him low, lay him low,
      In the clover or the snow!
      What cares he? he cannot know:
            Lay him low!

Fold him in his country's stars,
   Roll the drum and fire the volley!
What to him are all our wars,
   What but death-bemocking folly?
      Lay him low, lay him low,
      In the clover or the snow!
      What cares he? he cannot know:
            Lay him low!

Leave him to God's watching eye;
   Trust him to the hand that made him.
Mortal love weeps idly by:
   God alone has power to aid him.
      Lay him low, lay him low,
      In the clover or the snow!
      What cares he? he cannot know:
            Lay him low!

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