The Countersign

Alas! the weary hours pass slow,
The night is very dark and still;
And in the marshes far below
I hear the bearded whippoorwill;
I scarce can see a yard ahead,
My ears are strained to catch each sound;
I hear the leaves about me shed,
And the spring's bubbling through the ground.

Along the beaten path I pace,
Where white rags mark my sentry's track;
In formless shrubs I seem to trace
The foeman's form with bending back,
I think I see him crouching low:
I stop and list - I stoop and peer,
Until the neighboring hillocks grow
To groups of soldiers far and near.

With ready piece I wait and watch,
Until my eyes, familiar grown,
Detect each harmless earthen notch,
And turn guerillas into stone;
And then, amid the lonely gloom,
Beneath the tall old chestnut trees,
My silent marches I resume,
And think of other times than these.

Sweet visions through the silent night!
The deep bay-windows fringed with vine.
The room within, in softened light,
The tender milk-white hand in mine;
The timid pressure, and the pause
That often overcame our speech -
That time when by mysterious laws
We each felt all in all to each.

And then that bitter, bitter day
When came the final hour to part;
When clad in soldier's honest gray,
I pressed her weeping to my heart;
Too proud of me to bid me stay,
Too fond of me to let me go, -
I had to tear myself away,
And left her, stolid in my woe.

So rose the dream - so passed the night -
When, distant in the darksome glen,
Approaching up the sombre height
I heard the solid march of men;
Till over stubble, over sward,
And fields where lay the golden sheaf,
I saw the lantern of the guard
Advancing with the night relief.

'Halt! Who goes there?' My challenge cry,
It rings along the watchful line;
'Relief!' I hear a voice reply;
'Advance and give the countersign!'
With bayonet at the charge I wait -
The corporal gives the mystic spell;
With arms aport I charge my mate,
Then onward pass, and all is well.

But in the tent that night awake,
I ask, if in the fray I fall,
Can I the mystic answer make
When the angelic sentries call?
And pray that Heaven may so ordain,
Where'er I go, what fate be mine,
Whether in pleasure or in pain,
I still may have the countersign.

by Anonymous Americas

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