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Dana Burnet: The Deserter

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

American writers on peace and against war

Dana Burnett: Selections on war

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Dana Burnet
The Deserter

There was a face at a window
As we went marching by
There was the face of a woman,
And I’ll see it till I die!

The drums beat like a strong man’s heart
As we swung down the hill;
The flags were snapping in the wind
And the fifes were blowing shrill….
And then I saw a woman’s face
And I knew I could not kill.

‘Twas gone again in half a flash –
I only saw her eyes
As I have sometimes seen a star
Fall blindly down the skies.
And then…I heard the beating drums,
And knew that they were lies.

I could not take another step
God help me! for my life;
A madness gripped my whirling brain,
And stung me like a knife….
I threw my lance down in the road
And cursed the blowing fife.

He beckoned. Soldiers took my arms
And dragged me to the rear.
I passed a thousand staring eyes,
I heard my comrades jeer;
They said that I had been afraid
They lied!
It was not fear….

An officer rode up…I saw
His naked sword outdrawn;
But he only sat his horse and smiled
With a face most strangely wan,
“I know,” he said, “I saw it, too.”
And then, “You’ll die at dawn!”

It was a woman’s stricken face
That looked across the sill
As we came down the iron road
With our fifes a-blowing shrill.
It was a face that looked at me
And would not let me kill.

And so I wait beneath the stars,
A soul condemned to die –
And down the curling road I hear
My comrades marching by.
And all the fifes and all the drums
I know to be a lie!

There was a face at a window
That looked out and was gone
There was the face of a woman,
And I’ll see it till the dawn!

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