Ashes Of Soldiers By Walt Whitman
List of synonyms and notes for “Ashes of Heroes” first published as “Hymn of Dead Soldiers”
Whitman worked out lists of expressions for grief, suffering, and compassion to help formulate his poems of the Civil War. His Drum-Taps, the most important book of poetry to emerge from the war period, included accounts of calls to arms and of the personal heroism and comradeship of battlefields and encampments. At the book’s core was “The Wound-Dresser,” Whitman’s somber testament to the terrible afflictions of men in army hospitals and the quiet courage of those who daily cared for them. In his elegiac “Ashes of Soldiers,” shown in Whitman’s hand, the poet mourned the dead from all regions of the country and captured the high cost in sorrow paid to preserve unity.
ASHES of soldiers! As I muse, retrospective, murmuring a chant in thought, Lo! the war resumes—again to my sense your shapes, And again the advance of armies. Noiseless as mists and vapors, From their graves in the trenches ascending, From the cemeteries all through Virginia and Tennessee, From every point of the compass, out of the countless unnamed graves, In wafted clouds, in myraids large, or squads of twos or threes, or single ones, they come, And silently gather round me. Now sound no note, O trumpeters! Not at the head of my cavalry, parading on spirited horses, With sabres drawn and glist’ning, and carbines by their thighs—(ah, my brave horsemen! My handsome, tan-faced horsemen! what life, what joy and pride, With all the perils, were yours!) Nor you drummers—neither at reveille, at dawn, Nor the long roll alarming the camp—nor even the muffled beat for a burial; Nothing from you, this time, O drummers, bearing my warlike drums. But aside from these, and the marts of wealth, and the crowded promenade, Admitting around me comrades close, unseen by the rest, and voiceless, The slain elate and alive again—the dust and debris alive, I chant this chant of my silent soul, in the name of all dead soldiers. Faces so pale, with wondrous eyes, very dear, gather closer yet; Draw close, but speak not. Phantoms of countless lost! Invisible to the rest, henceforth become my companions! Follow me ever! desert me not, while I live. Sweet are the blooming cheeks of the living! sweet are the musical voices sounding! But sweet, ah sweet, are the dead, with their silent eyes. Dearest comrades! all is over and long gone; But love is not over—and what love, O comrades! Perfume from battle-fields rising—up from foetor arising. Perfume therefore my chant, O love! immortal Love! Give me to bathe the memories of all dead soldiers, Shroud them, embalm them, cover them all over with tender pride! Perfume all! make all wholesome! Make these ashes to nourish and blossom, O love! O chant! solve all, fructify all with the last chemistry. Give me exhaustless—make me a fountain, That I exhale love from me wherever I go, like a moist perennial dew, For the ashes of all dead soldiers.