Poem Hunter
A March In The Ranks, Hard-Prest
(31 May 1819 - 26 March 1892 / New York / United States)

A March In The Ranks, Hard-Prest

Poem By Walt Whitman

A MARCH in the ranks hard-prest, and the road unknown;
A route through a heavy wood, with muffled steps in the darkness;
Our army foil'd with loss severe, and the sullen remnant retreating;
Till after midnight glimmer upon us, the lights of a dim-lighted
We come to an open space in the woods, and halt by the dim-lighted
'Tis a large old church at the crossing roads--'tis now an impromptu
--Entering but for a minute, I see a sight beyond all the pictures
and poems ever made:
Shadows of deepest, deepest black, just lit by moving candles and
And by one great pitchy torch, stationary, with wild red flame, and
clouds of smoke;
By these, crowds, groups of forms, vaguely I see, on the floor, some
in the pews laid down; 10
At my feet more distinctly, a soldier, a mere lad, in danger of
bleeding to death, (he is shot in the abdomen;)
I staunch the blood temporarily, (the youngster's face is white as a
Then before I depart I sweep my eyes o'er the scene, fain to absorb
it all;
Faces, varieties, postures beyond description, most in obscurity,
some of them dead;
Surgeons operating, attendants holding lights, the smell of ether,
the odor of blood;
The crowd, O the crowd of the bloody forms of soldiers--the yard
outside also fill'd;
Some on the bare ground, some on planks or stretchers, some in the
death-spasm sweating;
An occasional scream or cry, the doctor's shouted orders or calls;
The glisten of the little steel instruments catching the glint of the
These I resume as I chant--I see again the forms, I smell the
odor; 20
Then hear outside the orders given, Fall in, my men, Fall in;
But first I bend to the dying lad--his eyes open--a half-smile gives
he me;
Then the eyes close, calmly close, and I speed forth to the darkness,
Resuming, marching, ever in darkness marching, on in the ranks,
The unknown road still marching.

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Comments (14)

The great Walt Whitman.. wonderful poem. tony
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Marching of soldiers in the dark wood, church turned hospital where soldiers are treated by doctor and attendants, some just dying with bloodshed and pain show war picture very well by the able hand of Poet Walt Whitman! thanks for sharing this poem here!
A great war poem narrating marching of a formation of army in dark through thick woods and the make shift hospital in a church where the injured and dying soldiers were being treated/ kept. A touching poem throwing light on devastation caused by war.
i wasn't familiar with this whitman poem before. with the ending as in the beginning—marching in the dark not knowing where they're going— and enough detail, he well conveys the senselessness of war. -gk