April 2022 Pome


                             THE DRUMMER AND THE GENERAL *

                                Pittsburg Landing, Tenn., 5 April 1863


            "Now, boy, " said the General quietly, "You are the heart of the army.

              Think of that. You're the heart of the army. Listen now."

                                           -- Ray Bradbury, "The Drummer Boy of Shiloh"


            Young Joby, the drummer, lay sleepless, in the cool of an April night,

            Staring up through the darkness. In the morning there'd be a fight.

            He was frightened and most unready, his eyes and his cheeks were damp,

            And he wondered about the army, stretched out in their slumbering camp.


            A footstep crunched in the shadows, the boots of a man with stars,

            He smelt of brass and leather, the smoke of his good cigars--

            His sabre clinked in its scabbard as he knelt at the drummer's side,

            "Is that you, boy?" he murmured, Joby nodded, eyes opened wide.


            "I hope you're done with the weeping, as I was, an hour ago."

            "You cried?" "To be sure," said the General, "it's a pain all soldiers know.

            I order my boys into battle, knowing well that some shall die,

            But my tears are shed in private--the troops mustn't see me cry."


            "Now harken, lad, it's important. Tomorrow, you're in command,

            For the battle hangs on the drummer, a boy of the regiment's band.

            This army of fifty thousand must have but a single mind,

            And the drummer's the one true leader, when the General's left behind.


            "If you rap out a lazy drumbeat, the cadence a mite too slow,

            The men's blood won't be warming, going in against the foe-

            They're young, all unused to battle, untrained as a flock of lambs,

            One day they're their mother's children, the next, they are Captain Sam's.


            "I dare not say to those mothers that I wasted their precious sons,

            So, boy, drum a rattling quickstep, and we'll take those enemy guns,

            Tomorrow we'll break those Rebels, we'll win us a victory.

            I've done my best for the army, will you now do this for me?"


            The General paused, and the drummer thought hard, for a brave reply,

            "Well, sir," he managed to stammer, "I don't know, but I'll surely try!"

            "That's good enough," said the General, and his sabre jingled again,

            As he rose to resume his pacing, the facing of soul-deep pain.


            His bootsteps faded in darkness, and the boy closed a peaceful eye,

            Peach-petals tapped on his drumhead, unseen under soft spring sky,

            Around him slumbered the army, fifty thousand boys in blue,

            And Joby slept well until morning--he knew what he had to do.




No comments: