Monday, July 7, 2014

"The Old Guard's Prayer" by Edward Sims Van Zile (1885)

The Old Guard's Prayer.

On Mount MacGregor's summit

        The moonbeams shed their light,

Where the great warrior lies

        Sleeping so still to-night.

Down in the misty valley

        The tramp of men is heard,

The muffled drum is beating,

        "Grant" is the whispered word.

Far in the dreamy distance

        The battalions still advance,

The moonbeams show the pathway

        And from the bayonet's glance.

The shadowy army marches

        Up the steep mountain height;

Stern are their white, sad faces,

        Scarred with the wounds of fight.

Thousands of brave old veterans,

        Who fought through years of strife,

March in that midnight army

        To sounds of drum and fife.

Men who were brave at Shiloh,

        Men who fought against Lee,

Men from the James and Potomac,

        Men from the Tennessee.

Crippled are some and aged,

        Their hair is white with years,

Their heads are bowed in sadness,

        Their eyes are filled with tears.

With arms reversed, the warriors

        Silently march along,

Hushed is the martial music,

        Hushed is the soldier song.

With the quiet of the day-dawn,

        Unbroken by a sound,

Where Grant lies sleeping sweetly,

        They stand on sacred ground.

Their chaplain prays to heaven—

        Bared are the gray heads then;

He prays for the soul of the hero,

        And the soldiers day "Amen."

The sun comes up in splendor,

        And the mountain-top is bright,

But the band of faithful warriors

        Passed with the shades of night.

                                E. S. V. Z.

Troy Daily Times. July 25, 1885: 1 col 2.

The author reused the poem in a story, putting it in the mouth of a character who was dismissive of it (yet able to recite it from memory).

        "I think Grant was a greater hero on Mt. McGregor than at Donelson or Appomatox. It was wonderful how much the nation loved him."

        "And it is strange how soon our people forgot him," returned the poet bitterly. "Monuments arise to Lee and Jackson. Where is Grant's?"

        "In the womb of Time, be sure. By the way, every poet in the land laid a flower of verse on the grave of the dead hero. Surely, your patriotic muse was not silent."

        The little man blushed. "What I wrote was of no moment. But you shall hear it if you wish. I called it 'The Old Guard's Prayer:'"

Van Zile, Edward S. "Stories of New-York Life; A Phonographic Tragedy-The Dude-A Snubbed Husband-The Poet." The Illustrated Buffalo Express. June 22, 1890: 3.

Edward Sims Van Zile later republished the poem in a collection of his verse, though editing some lines.

Van Zile, Edward S. The Dreamers and Other Poems. NY: F. Tennyson Neely, 1897. 30-33.

Edward Sims Van Zile (1863-1931)

Cedar Hill Cemetery, Hartford, Connecticut

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