Verse > Anthologies > James and Mary Ford, eds. > Every Day in the Year
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James and Mary Ford, eds.  Every Day in the Year.  1902.
 
May 30
The Rear Guard
By Irene Fowler Brown
 
THE GUNS are hushed. On every field once flowing
  With wars red flood May’s breath of peace is shed,
And, spring’s young grass and gracious flowers are growing
        Above the dead.
 
Ye gray old men whom we this day are greeting,        5
  Honor to you, honor and love and trust!
Brave to the brave! Your soldier hands are meeting
        Across their dust.
 
Bravely they fought who charged when flags were flying
  In cannon’s crash, in screech and scream of shell;        10
Bravely they fell, who lay alone and dying
        In battle’s hell.
 
Honor to them! Far graves to-day are flinging
  Up through the soil peace blooms to meet the sun,
And daisied heads to summer winds are singing        15
        Their long “well done.”
 
Our vanguard, they. They went with hot blood flushing
  At battle’s din, at joy of bugle’s call.
They fell with smiles, the flood of young life gushing,
        Full brave the fall!        20
 
But braver ye who, when the war was ended,
  And bugle’s call and wave of flag were done,
Could come back home, so long left undefended.
        Your cause unwon,
And twist the useless sword to hook of reaping,        25
  Rebuild the homes, set back the empty chair
And brave a land where waste and want were keeping
        Guard everywhere.
 
All this you did, your courage strong upon you,
  And out of ashes, wreck, a new land ’rose,        30
Through years of war no braver battle won you,
        ’Gainst fiercer foes.
 
And now to-day a prospered land is cheering
  And lifting up her voice in lusty pride
For you gray men, who fought and wrought, not fearing        35
        Battle’s red tide.
Our rear guard, ye whose step is slowing, slowing,
  Whose ranks, earth thinned, are filling otherwhere,
Who wore the gray—the gray, alas! still showing
        On bleaching hair.        40
 
For forty years you’ve watched this land grow stronger,
  For forty years you’ve been its bulwark, stay;
Tarry awhile; pause yet a little longer
        Upon the way.
 
And set our feet where there may be no turning,        45
  And set our faces straight on duty’s track,
Where there may be for stray, strange goods no yearning
        Nor looking back.
 
And when for you the last tattoo has sounded,
  And on death’s silent field you’ve pitched your tent,        50
When, bowed through tears, the arc of life has rounded
        To full content,
 
We that are left will count it guerdon royal,
  Our heritage no years can take away,
That we were born of those, unflinching, loyal,        55
        Who wore the gray.
 
 
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