Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. VIII. National Spirit
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume VIII. National Spirit.  1904.
 
III. War
The Countersign
Anonymous
 
ALAS! the weary hours pass slow,
  The night is very dark and still,
And in the marshes far below
  I hear the bearded whippoorwill.
I scarce can see a yard ahead;        5
  My ears are strained to catch each sound;
I hear the leaves about me shed,
  And the spring’s bubbling through the ground.
 
Along the beaten path I pace,
  Where white rags mark my sentry’s track;        10
In formless shrubs I seem to trace
  The foeman’s form, with bending back;
I think I see him crouching low—
  I stop and list—I stoop and peer,
Until the neighboring hillocks grow        15
  To groups of soldiers far and near.
 
With ready piece I wait and watch,
  Until my eyes, familiar grown,
Detect each harmless earthen notch,
  And turn guerrillas into stone;        20
And then amid the lonely gloom,
  Beneath the tall old chestnut trees,
My silent marches I resume,
  And think of other times than these.
 
“Halt! who goes there?” my challenge cry,        25
  It rings along the watchful line;
“Relief!” I hear a voice reply—
  “Advance, and give the countersign!”
With bayonet at the charge I wait—
  The corporal gives the mystic spell;        30
With arms aport I charge my mate,
  Then onward pass, and all is well.
 
But in the tent that night awake,
  I ask, if in the fray I fall,
Can I the mystic answer make,        35
  When the angelic sentries call?
And pray that Heaven may so ordain,
  Where’er I go, what fate be mine,
Whether in pleasure or in pain,
  I still may have the countersign.        40
 
 
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