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John Pierpont: Not on the Battle-Field

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

American writers on peace and against war

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John Pierpont
Not on the Battle-Field

“To fall on the battle-field fighting for my dear country,—that would not be hard.” – The Neighbors

O no, no, – let me lie
Not on a field of battle when I die!
Let not the iron tread
Of the mad war-horse crush my helmèd head;
Nor let the reeking knife,
That I have drawn against a brother’s life,
Be in my hand when Death
Thunders along, and tramples me beneath
His heavy squadron’s heels,
Or gory felloes of his cannon’s wheels.

From such a dying bed,
Though o’er it float the stripes of white and red,
And the bald eagle brings
The clustered stars upon his wide-spread wings
To sparkle in my sight,
O, never let my spirit take her flight!

I know that beauty’s eye
Is all the brighter where gay pennants fly,
And brazen helmets dance,
And sunshine flashes on the lifted lance;
I know that bards have sung,
And people shouted till the welkin rung,
In honor of the brave
Who on the battle-field have found a grave;
I know that o’er their bones
How grateful hands piled monumental stones.
Some of those piles I’ve seen:
The one at Lexington upon the green
Where the first blood was shed,
And to my country’s independence led;
And others, on our shore,
The “Battle Monument” at Baltimore,
And that on Bunker’s Hill.
Ay, and abroad, a few more famous still;
Thy “tomb,” Themistocles,
That looks out yet upon the Grecian seas,
And which the waters kiss
That issue from the gulf of Salamis.
And thine, too, have I seen,
Thy mound of earth, Patroclus, robed in green,
That, like a natural knoll,
Sheep climb and nibble over as they stroll,
Watched by some turbaned boy,
Upon the margin of the plain of Troy.
Such honors grace the bed,
I know, whereon the warrior lays his head,
And hears, as life ebbs out,
The conquered flying, and the conqueror’s shout;
But as his eye grows dim,
What is a column or a mound to him?
What, to the parting soul,
The mellow note of bugles? What the roll
Of drums? No, let me die
Where the blue heaven bends o’er me lovingly,
And the soft summer air,
As it goes by me, stirs my thin white hair,
And from my forehead dries
The death-damp as it gathers, and the skies
Seem waiting to receive
My soul to their clear depths! Or let me leave
The world when round my bed
Wife, children, weeping friends are gatherèd,
And the calm voice of prayer
And holy hymning shall my soul prepare
To go and be at rest
With kindred spirits,- spirits who have blessed
The human brotherhood
By labors, cares, and counsels for their good.

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