To E.S. Salomon - Poem by Ambrose Bierce
What! Salomon! such words from you,
Who call yourself a soldier? Well,
The Southern brother where he fell
Slept all your base oration through.
Alike to him - he cannot know
Your praise or blame: as little harm
Your tongue can do him as your arm
A quarter-century ago.
The brave respect the brave. The brave
Respect the dead; but you - you draw
That ancient blade, the ass's jaw,
And shake it o'er a hero's grave.
Are you not he who makes to-day
A merchandise of old reknown
Which he persuades this easy town
He won in battle far away?
Nay, those the fallen who revile
Have ne'er before the living stood
And stoutly made their battle good
And greeted danger with a smile.
What if the dead whom still you hate
Were wrong? Are you so surely right?
We know the issues of the fight -
The sword is but an advocate.
Men live and die, and other men
Arise with knowledges diverse:
What seemed a blessing seems a curse,
And Now is still at odds with Then.
The years go on, the old comes back
To mock the new - beneath the sun
Is nothing new; ideas run
Recurrent in an endless track.
What most we censure, men as wise
Have reverently practiced; nor
Will future wisdom fail to war
On principles we dearly prize.
We do not know - we can but deem,
And he is loyalest and best
Who takes the light full on his breast
And follows it throughout the dream.
The broken light, the shadows wide -
Behold the battle-field displayed!
God save the vanquished from the blade,
The victor from the victor's pride.
If, Salomon, the blessed dew
That falls upon the Blue and Gray
Is powerless to wash away
The sin of differing from you,
Remember how the flood of years
Has rolled across the erring slain;
Remember, too, the cleansing rain
Of widows' and of orphans' tears.
The dead are dead - let that atone:
And though with equal hand we strew
The blooms on saint and sinner too,
Yet God will know to choose his own.
The wretch, whate'er his life and lot,
Who does not love the harmless dead
With all his heart and all his head -
May God forgive him, I shall not.
When, Salomon, you come to quaff
The Darker Cup with meeker face,
I, loving you at last, shall trace
Upon your tomb this epitaph:
'Draw near, ye generous and brave -
Kneel round this monument and weep
For one who tried in vain to keep
A flower from a soldier's grave.'
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