Poetry Out Loud: Denise Burns Recites “A March In The Ranks Hard-Prest, And The Road Unknown”

Next is Denise Burns. [APPLAUSE] A March in the Ranks Hard-prest,
and the Road Unknown 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 building, We come to an open space in the woods, and halt by the dim- lighted
building, ‘Tis a large old church at the crossing roads, now an impromptu hospital 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 lamps, 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, At my feet more distinctly a soldier,
a mere lad, in danger of bleeding to death, he is shot in the abdomen, I stanch the
blood temporarily, the youngster’s face is white as a lily,) 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, 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 torches, These I
resume as I chant, I see again the forms, I smell the odor, 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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