Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882). Complete Poetical Works. 1893.

A Book of Sonnets

A Nameless Grave

  • A newspaper description of a burying ground in Newport News, where, on the head-board of a soldier were the words, “A Union Soldier mustered out,” was sent to Mr. Longfellow in 1864. Ten years passed before the poet used the incident, for he wrote the sonnet November 30, 1874.

  • “A SOLDIER of the Union mustered out,”

    Is the inscription on an unknown grave

    At Newport News, beside the salt-sea wave,

    Nameless and dateless; sentinel or scout

    Shot down in skirmish, or disastrous rout

    Of battle, when the loud artillery drave

    Its iron wedges through the ranks of brave

    And doomed battalions, storming the redoubt.

    Thou unknown hero sleeping by the sea

    In thy forgotten grave! with secret shame

    I feel my pulses beat, my forehead burn,

    When I remember thou hast given for me

    All that thou hadst, thy life, thy very name,

    And I can give thee nothing in return.