December 25, 2012

Christmas Night of '62: sitting here alone

In his long life, William Gordon McCabe was many things: a Virginian, a member of Phi Beta Kappa, an educator and the founder of a school, an historian, biographer, translator, and poet. But on Christmas in 1862, he was just a Confederate soldier, encamped near Fredericksburg as an artilleryman for the Army of Northern Virginia. He wrote what it was like on that holiday in a poem, "Christmas Night of '62," expressing the yearning for a simple domestic life, while shockingly and sadly admitting that such a life no longer exists:

The wintry blast goes wailing by,
    The snow is falling overhead;
    I hear the lonely sentry's tread,
And distant watch-fires light the sky.

Dim forms go flitting through the gloom;
    The soldiers cluster round the blaze
    To talk of other Christmas days,
And softly speak of home and home.

My saber swinging overhead,
    Gleams in the watch-fire's fitful glow,
    While fiercely drives the blinding snow,
And memory leads me to the dead.

My thoughts go wandering to and fro,
    Vibrating 'twixt the Now and Then;
    I see the low-browed home again,
The old hall wreathed in mistletoe.

And sweetly from the far off years
    Comes borne the laughter faint and low,
    The voices of the Long Ago!
My eyes are wet with tender tears.

I feel again the mother kiss,
    I see again the glad surprise
    That lighted up the tranquil eyes
And brimmed them o'er with tears of bliss,

As, rushing from the old hall-door,
    She fondly clasped her wayward boy —
    Her face all radiant with they joy
She felt to see him home once more.

My saber swinging on the bough
    Gleams in the watch-fire's fitful glow,
    While fiercely drives the blinding snow
Aslant upon my saddened brow.

Those cherished faces are all gone!
    Asleep within the quiet graves
    Where lies the snow in drifting waves, —
And I am sitting here alone.

There's not a comrade here tonight
    But knows that loved ones far away
    On bended knees this night will pray:
"God bring our darling from the fight."

But there are none to wish me back,
    For me no yearning prayers arise
    The lips are mute and closed the eyes —
My home is in the bivouac.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.