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(31 May 1819 - 26 March 1892 / New York / United States)

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The Artilleryman's Vision


WHILE my wife at my side lies slumbering, and the wars are over long,
And my head on the pillow rests at home, and the vacant midnight
passes,
And through the stillness, through the dark, I hear, just hear, the
breath of my infant,
There in the room, as I wake from sleep, this vision presses upon me:
The engagement opens there and then, in fantasy unreal;
The skirmishers begin--they crawl cautiously ahead--I hear the
irregular snap! snap!
I hear the sounds of the different missiles--the short t-h-t! t-h-t!
of the rifle balls;
I see the shells exploding, leaving small white clouds--I hear the
great shells shrieking as they pass;
The grape, like the hum and whirr of wind through the trees, (quick,
tumultuous, now the contest rages!)
All the scenes at the batteries themselves rise in detail before me
again; 10
The crashing and smoking--the pride of the men in their pieces;
The chief gunner ranges and sights his piece, and selects a fuse of
the right time;
After firing, I see him lean aside, and look eagerly off to note the
effect;
--Elsewhere I hear the cry of a regiment charging--(the young colonel
leads himself this time, with brandish'd sword;)
I see the gaps cut by the enemy's volleys, (quickly fill'd up, no
delay;)
I breathe the suffocating smoke--then the flat clouds hover low,
concealing all;
Now a strange lull comes for a few seconds, not a shot fired on
either side;
Then resumed, the chaos louder than ever, with eager calls, and
orders of officers;
While from some distant part of the field the wind wafts to my ears a
shout of applause, (some special success;)
And ever the sound of the cannon, far or near, (rousing, even in
dreams, a devilish exultation, and all the old mad joy, in the
depths of my soul;) 20
And ever the hastening of infantry shifting positions--batteries,
cavalry, moving hither and thither;
(The falling, dying, I heed not--the wounded, dripping and red, I
heed not--some to the rear are hobbling;)
Grime, heat, rush--aid-de-camps galloping by, or on a full run;
With the patter of small arms, the warning s-s-t of the rifles,
(these in my vision I hear or see,)
And bombs busting in air, and at night the vari-color'd rockets.

Submitted: Tuesday, December 31, 2002


Read poems about / on: warning, success, wind, pride, red, sleep, joy, home, dark, dream, rose, running, tree

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Comments about this poem (A Promise To California by Walt Whitman )

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  • Ray Meinberg (4/25/2008 1:18:00 PM)

    This is one of the earliest and certainly one of the most accurate and chillingly moving depictions of the effects of what today we call PTSD. As a veteran myself, I can't read it without a slight shiver running down my spine. Though never as wrenchingly effected as the protagonist, I can still empathize and recognize the mixed emotions towards the maelstrom of combat his unbidden memories evoke.

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