1 AN old man bending, I come, among new faces, Years looking backward, resuming, in answer to children, Come tell us, old man, as from young men and maidens that love me; Years hence of these scenes, of these furious passions, these chances, Of unsurpassâ€™d heroes, (was one side so brave? the other was equally brave;) Now be witness againâ€”paint the mightiest armies of earth; Of those armies so rapid, so wondrous, what saw you to tell us? What stays with you latest and deepest? of curious panics, Of hard-fought engagements, or sieges tremendous, what deepest remains?
2 O maidens and young men I love, and that love me, What you ask of my days, those the strangest and sudden your talking recalls; Soldier alert I arrive, after a long march, coverâ€™d with sweat and dust; In the nick of time I come, plunge in the fight, loudly shout in the rush of successful charge;
Enter the capturâ€™d works.... yet lo! like a swift-running river, they fade; Pass and are gone, they fadeâ€”I dwell not on soldiersâ€™ perils or soldiersâ€™ joys; (Both I remember wellâ€”many the hardships, few the joys, yet I was content.)
But in silence, in dreamsâ€™ projections, While the world of gain and appearance and mirth goes on, So soon what is over forgotten, and waves wash the imprints off the sand, In natureâ€™s reverie sad, with hinged knees returning, I enter the doorsâ€”(while for you up there, Whoever you are, follow me without noise, and be of strong heart.)
3 Bearing the bandages, water and sponge, Straight and swift to my wounded I go, Where they lie on the ground, after the battle brought in; Where their priceless blood reddens the grass, the ground; Or to the rows of the hospital tent, or under the roofâ€™d hospital; To the long rows of cots, up and down, each side, I return; To each and all, one after another, I draw nearâ€”not one do I miss; An attendant follows, holding a trayâ€”he carries a refuse pail, Soon to be fillâ€™d with clotted rags and blood, emptied and fillâ€™d again.
I onward go, I stop, With hinged knees and steady hand, to dress wounds; I am firm with eachâ€”the pangs are sharp, yet unavoidable; One turns to me his appealing eyesâ€”(poor boy! I never knew you, Yet I think I could not refuse this moment to die for you, if that would save you.)
4 On, on I go!â€”(open doors of time! open hospital doors!) The crushâ€™d head I dress, (poor crazed hand, tear not the bandage away;) The neck of the cavalry-man, with the bullet through and through, I examine; Hard the breathing rattles, quite glazed already the eye, yet life struggles hard; (Come, sweet death! be persuaded, O beautiful death! In mercy come quickly.)
From the stump of the arm, the amputated hand, I undo the clotted lint, remove the slough, wash off the matter and blood; Back on his pillow the soldier bends, with curvâ€™d neck, and side-falling head; His eyes are closed, his face is pale, (he dares not look on the bloody stump, And has not yet lookâ€™d on it.)
I dress a wound in the side, deep, deep; But a day or two moreâ€”for see, the frame all wasted already, and sinking, And the yellow-blue countenance see.
I dress the perforated shoulder, the foot with the bullet wound, Cleanse the one with a gnawing and putrid gangrene, so sickening, so offensive, While the attendant stands behind aside me, holding the tray and pail.
I am faithful, I do not give out; The fracturâ€™d thigh, the knee, the wound in the abdomen, These and more I dress with impassive handâ€”(yet deep in my breast a fire, a burning flame.)
5 Thus in silence, in dreamsâ€™ projections, Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals; The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand, I sit by the restless all the dark nightâ€”some are so young; Some suffer so muchâ€”I recall the experience sweet and sad; (Many a soldierâ€™s loving arms about this neck have crossâ€™d and rested, Many a soldierâ€™s kiss dwells on these bearded lips.)