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O'Hara, a native of Kentucky, was a teacher and a lawyer, and later an employee of the Treasury Department at Washington. He was a soldier in the Mexican War, and also in the Confederate Army of the Civil War. He was at times upon the editorial staffs of newspapers, and wrote a few poems of choice quality, his most popular poem being the one here given, the Bivouac of the Dead.
THE BIVOUAC1 OF THE DEAD
This poem was written by O'Hara on the return of the bodies of soldiers slain in the battle of Buena Vista in the Mexican War. The version given here is correct, though it differs materially from that commonly found in readers.
The muffled drum's sad roll has beat
The soldier's last tattoo;
No more on life's parade shall meet
1 Bivouac, an encampment on guard.
And Glory guards, with solemn round,
No rumor of the foe's advance
Now swells upon the wind;
No vision of the morrow's strife
No braying horn nor screaming fife
Their shivered swords are red with rust,
And the proud forms, in battle gashed,
The neighboring steed, the flashing blade,
The charge, the dreadful cannonade,
No war's wild note, nor glory's peal,
Like the dread northern hurricane
That sweeps his broad plateau, Flushed with the triumph yet to gain
Came down the serried1 foe;
Our heroes felt the shock, and leapt
To meet them on the plain;
And long the pitying sky hath wept
Sons of our consecrated ground,
Ye must not slumber there,
Where stranger steps and tongues resound
Your own proud land's heroic soil
Shall be your fitter grave;
She claims from War his richest spoil
Rest on, embalmed and sainted dead!
Dear as the blood you gave,
1 Serried, dense, crowded.
No impious footsteps here shall tread
The herbage of your grave;
Yon marble minstrel's voiceless stone
When many a vanished age hath flown,
Nor wreck, nor change, nor winter's blight,
Nor Time's remorseless doom,
Shall dim one ray of holy light
That gilds your glorious tomb.
QUESTIONS FOR STUDY
Compare this poem with Gray's Elegy, page 428, which also treats of the glory of the dead.
What kind of people are referred to in Gray's poem? In O'Hara's?
Point out figures of speech in each poem that would not fit the other.
Which poem do you like the better? Why?
"Bobbie" Burns is Scotland's pet. A young rustic, with the gift of song, he thrilled Scotland and England alike. Rising from humble beginnings, he became the friend of the leading literary men of Great Britain, and he wrote poems that are of permanent worth.
His life was that of a rollicking, gay, irresponsible "good fellow," good and bad mixed in about equal proportions. But he had a charm of personality which captivated all.
His poetry, much of it, is in Scotch dialect and somewhat difficult to read on that account, but there are bits of charming verse by Burns, written in standard English. His best poems, however, are in dialect.