June 25, 2011

There is a glory, even in his loss

June 25, 1876 was the first day of the Battle of the Little Bighorn (Montana), when combined forces of Native Americans fought against the 7th Cavalry Regiment led by George Armstrong Custer. It did not end well for Custer and his troops and the incident has been nicknamed "Custer's Last Stand." It inspired several poetic tributes, including "Custer" by poet, critic and copyright advocate Edmund Clarence Stedman:

   What! shall that sudden blade
      Leap out no more?
   No more thy hand be laid
Upon the sword-hilt smiting sore?
      O for another such
   The charger's rein to clutch, —
One equal voice to summon victory.
   Sounding thy battle-cry,
Brave darling of the soldiers' choice!
   Would there were one more voice!

      O gallant charge, too bold!
      O fierce, imperious greed
To pierce the clouds that in their darkness hold
   Slaughter of man and steed!
      Now, stark and cold.
   Among thy fallen braves thou liest,
   And even with thy blood defiest
      The wolfish foe:
   But ah, thou liest low,
And all our birthday song is hushed indeed!

   Young lion of the plain,
   Thou of the tawny mane!
Hotly the soldiers' hearts shall beat.
   Their mouths thy death repeat.
Their vengeance seek the trail again
   Where thy red doomsmen be;
But on the charge no more shall stream
Thy hair, — no more thy sabre gleam, —
   No more ring out thy battle-shout.
      Thy cry of victory!

   Not when a hero falls
   The sound a world appalls:
   For while we plant his cross
There is a glory, even in the loss:
   But when some craven heart
   From honor dares to part,
Then, then, the groan, the blanching cheek,
   And men in whispers speak.
Nor kith nor country dare reclaim
   From the black depths his name.

   Thou, wild young warrior, rest.
By all the prairie winds caressed!
   Swift was thy dying pang;
   Even as the war-cry rang
Thy deathless spirit mounted high
   And sought Columbia's sky: —
There, to the northward far,
   Shines a new star,
And from it blazes down
      The light of thy renown!

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