Verse > Walt Whitman > Leaves of Grass
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Walt Whitman (1819–1892).  Leaves of Grass.  1900.

123. A March in the Ranks, Hard-prest


A MARCH in the ranks hard-prest, and the road unknown; 
A route through a heavy wood, with muffled steps in the darkness; 
Our army foil’d with loss severe, and the sullen remnant retreating; 
Till after midnight glimmer upon us, the lights of a dim-lighted building; 
We come to an open space in the woods, and halt by the dim-lighted building;         5
’Tis a large old church at the crossing roads—’tis now an impromptu hospital; 
—Entering but for a minute, I see a sight beyond all the pictures and poems ever made: 
Shadows of deepest, deepest black, just lit by moving candles and lamps, 
And by one great pitchy torch, stationary, with wild red flame, and clouds of smoke; 
By these, crowds, groups of forms, vaguely I see, on the floor, some in the pews laid down;  10
At my feet more distinctly, a soldier, a mere lad, in danger of bleeding to death, (he is shot in the abdomen;) 
I staunch the blood temporarily, (the youngster’s face is white as a lily;) 
Then before I depart I sweep my eyes o’er the scene, fain to absorb it all; 
Faces, varieties, postures beyond description, most in obscurity, some of them dead; 
Surgeons operating, attendants holding lights, the smell of ether, the odor of blood;  15
The crowd, O the crowd of the bloody forms of soldiers—the yard outside also fill’d; 
Some on the bare ground, some on planks or stretchers, some in the death-spasm sweating; 
An occasional scream or cry, the doctor’s shouted orders or calls; 
The glisten of the little steel instruments catching the glint of the torches; 
These I resume as I chant—I see again the forms, I smell the odor;  20
Then hear outside the orders given, Fall in, my men, Fall in; 
But first I bend to the dying lad—his eyes open—a half-smile gives he me; 
Then the eyes close, calmly close, and I speed forth to the darkness, 
Resuming, marching, ever in darkness marching, on in the ranks, 
The unknown road still marching.  25


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