The Annual of the Association for Documentary Editing
2013, Volume 34
"Will not these days be by thy poets sung": Poems of the Anglo-African and National Anti-Slavery Standard, 1863–1864Edited by Elizabeth Lorang and R. J. Weir
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FOR THE ANGLO-AFRICAN.Schenectady, N. Y., July, 1864.
THE DYING SOLDIER.
I.Grim visaged cannon had ceased their wild roar, Hushed was the musketry rattle— The bright flashing sabre, once dripping with gore, No longer made bloody the battle. No warm golden sun light now flooded the plain, The night-wind was mournfully sighing; And bore on its bosom, again and again, The groans of the wounded and dying.
II.On the blood-crimsoned turf, with bright eyes upturned To the smoke-hidden heaven above; A dying youth lay, while his manly heart yearned For his home, and the friends of his love. Yet firmly he clings to his sabre, now red, While sharp are the pains through him darting; The glaze o'er his eyes (their brightness hath fled) Tells that body and spirit are parting.
III.A smile wreathed the lips, that once were so sad, As he looked on the smoky cloud o'er him; Life shadowing twilight flits over his head, And visions of home danced before him. His father, with tottering steps, he now sees, Hears the sweet voice of his mother, And fronting the door, the wide spreading trees Where he played with his sister and brother.
IV.Another sweet vision now gladens his gaze, With joy-smiles it comes him to meet: The beautiful play-mate of his youthful days Now gladly his presence doth greet. The blood-besmeared sabre, now fell from his hand, To his feet he triumphantly started, And then with a groan, fell back to the sand, While his spirit to meet them departed.
- The poem is unusual, in that relatively few verses published in the Anglo-African during the latter half of the war represented individual soldiers' deaths within the "framework of sentimental norms" that privileged family ties and tender thoughts of home (Alice Fahs, The Imagined Civil War: Popular Literature of the North and South, 1861–1865 [Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001], 98). More common were pieces that emphasized battlefield sacrifice.Brown-Eyed Ruth's "The Dying Soldier" is part of a much larger subgenre of Civil War poems that "gave voice to dying soldiers' thoughts" (100). As Fahs observes, "'Dying soldier' poems had been published during the Mexican War, too . . . . But during the Civil War this sentimental poetry exploded in popularity. Published throughout the war in both the North and the South, these poems and songs were ubiquitous, with songs in particular sometimes selling hundreds of thousands of copies" (100). These pieces often present death as a parting, but "The Dying Soldier" anticipates a family reunion in heaven; the soldier's thoughts are memories of loved ones who have already died.