Cannon and sword were my playthings to bless,
(Dangerous toys for a babe to try,)
The stirring reveille my more caress,
The wild tattoo was my lullaby;
And well, methinks, as they years have run,
Have I wrought the work my sires begun.
An infant prodigy I, and ere
Expired a tenth of my granted day,
I wrested from lion-grasp the spear—
A nation’s power I held in sway;
I broke the gives from freedom’s graves,
And steam and lightning I bound my slaves.
I flung my starred robe on the breeze,
From burning tropic to arctic cold.
On distant isles, in distant seas,
A foot-hold gained with sword and gold.
Atlantic’s slope and Pacific’s strand
I bound together with an iron band.
But of late I’ve premature grown old;
There’s something wrong with the clothes I wear;
There is something wrong with the helm I hold,
Else I hold it wrong,—there’s wrong somewhere.
Disease too has thrown me his poisoned dart;
His workman are “striking” right at my heart.
My head is so strangely vision thrilled
With plans to evade the demon’s stay,
But all the plots that my brain have filled
Only have served to augment his sway,
And on my feet, at the sunset’s door,
Is spreading a troublesome grievous sore.
I’m growing ill I can plainly see,
And many prescribe my pain to ease,
But somehow each medicine proves to be
“A remedy worse than the disease.”
Though strong as ever, should once my strength
Give way, I must fall a fearful length.
My doctors say they know the cause,
And they’ve gone to work with eager zest,
Probed and expounded with weighty straws,
And leeches attached to my troubled breast;
I fee them well, as attests my purse
But day after day I’m growing worse.
Though they have not yet touched the cause they knew,
And are wrangling over its direful flood,
They promise to build me better than new,
And stop the drain on my famished blood;
But lest they’re careful while building the dam
They’ll scoop out a grave for “Uncle Sam.”
Nay, do not ask me, Sweet, if I have loved before,
Or if, mayhap, in other years to be,
A younger, fairer face than thine I know,
I’ll love her more than thee.
What should it matter if I’ve loved before,
So that I love thee now, and love thee best?
What matters it that I should love again
If, first, the daisy-buds blow o’er thy breast?
Love has the waywardness of strange caprice,
One can not chain it to a recreant heart,
Nor, when around the soul its tendrils twine,
Can will the clinging, silken bonds to part.
It is enough, I hold thee prisoned in my arms,
And drink the dewy fragrance of thy breath;
And earth, and heaven, and hades, are forgot,
And love holds carnival, and laughs at death.