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
Army Correspondent’s Last Ride
George Alfred Townsend (1841–1914)
 
Five Forks, April 1, 1865

HO! pony. Down the lonely road
  Strike now your cheeriest pace!
The woods on fire do not burn higher
  Than burns my anxious face;
Far have you sped, but all this night        5
  Must feel my nervous spur;
If we be late, the world must wait
  The tidings we aver:—
To home and hamlet, town and hearth,
  To thrill child, mother, man,        10
I carry to the waiting North
  Great news from Sheridan!
 
The birds are dead among the pines,
  Slain by the battle fright,
Prone in the road the steed reclines        15
  That never reached the fight;
Yet on we go,—the wreck below
  Of many a tumbled wain,—
By ghastly pools where stranded mules
  Die, drinking of the rain;        20
With but my list of killed and missed
  I spur my stumbling nag,
To tell of death at many a tryst,
  But victory to the flag!
 
“Halt! who comes there? The countersign!”—        25
  “A friend.”—“Advance! The fight,—
How goes it, say?”—“We won the day!”—
  “Huzza! Pass on!”—“Good-night!”—
And parts the darkness on before,
  And down the mire we tramp,        30
And the black sky is painted o’er
  With many a pulsing camp;
O’er stumps and ruts, by ruined huts,
  Where ghosts look through the gloam,—
Behind my tread I hear the dead        35
  Follow the news toward home!
 
The hunted souls I see behind,
  In swamp and in ravine,
Whose cry for mercy thrills the wind
  Till cracks the sure carbine;        40
The moving lights, which scare the dark,
  And show the trampled place
Where, in his blood, some mother’s bud
  Turns up his young, dead face;
The captives spent, whose standards rent        45
  The conqueror parades,
As at the Five Forks roads arrive
  The General’s dashing aides.
 
O wondrous Youth! through this grand ruth
  Runs my boy’s life its thread;        50
The General’s fame, the battle’s name,
  The rolls of maimed and dead
I bear, with my thrilled soul astir,
  And lonely thoughts and fears;
And am but History’s courier        55
  To bind the conquering years;
A battle-ray, through ages gray
  To light to deeds sublime,
And flash the lustre of this day
  Down all the aisles of Time!        60
 
Ho! pony,—’t is the signal gun
  The night-assault decreed;
On Petersburg the thunderbolts
  Crash from the lines of Meade;
Fade the pale, frightened stars o’erhead,        65
  And shrieks the bursting air;
The forest foliage, tinted red,
  Grows ghastlier in the glare;
Though in her towers, reached her last hours,
  Rocks proud Rebellion’s crest—        70
The world may sag, if but my nag
  Get in before the rest!
 
With bloody flank, and fetlocks dank,
  And goad, and lash, and shout—
Great God! as every hoof-beat falls        75
  A hundred lives beat out!
As weary as this broken steed
  Reels down the corduroys,
So, weary, fight for morning light
  Our hot and grimy boys;        80
Through ditches wet, o’er parapet
  And guns barbette, they catch
The last, lost breach; and I,—I reach
  The mail with my despatch!
 
Sure it shall speed, the land to read,        85
  As sped the happiest shell!
The shot I send strike the world’s end;
  This tells my pony’s knell;
His long race run, the long war done,
  My occupation gone,—        90
Above his bier, prone on the pier,
  The vultures fleck the dawn.
Still, rest his bones where soldiers dwell,
  Till the Long Roll they catch.
He fell the day that Richmond fell,        95
  And took the first despatch!
 
 
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