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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
America: Vols. XXV–XXIX. 1876–79.

New England: Enfield, Conn.

The Captain’s Drum

By Benjamin Franklin Taylor (1819–1887)

April, 1775

IN Pilgrim land, one Sabbath-day,

The winter lay like sheep about

The ragged pastures mullein gray;

The April sun shone in and out,

The showers swept by in fitful flocks,

And eaves ticked fast like mantel clocks;

And now and then a wealthy cloud

Would wear a ribbon broad and bright,

And now and then a wingéd crowd

Of shivering azure flash in sight.

So rainbows bend, and bluebirds fly,

And violets show their bits of sky.

To Enfield church throng all the town,

In quilted hood and bombazine,

In beaver hat with flaring crown,

And quaint Vandyke and victorine;

And buttoned boys in roundabout

From calyx collars blossom out;

Bandannas wave their feeble fire,

And foot-stoves tinkle up the aisle;

A gray-haired elder leads the choir,

And girls in linsey-woolsey smile.

So back to life the beings glide

Whose very graves had ebbed and died.

One hundred years have waned, and yet

We call the roll, and not in vain,

For one whose flintlock musket set

The echoes wild round Fort Duquesne,

And smelled the battle’s powder smoke

Ere Revolution’s thunders woke.

Lo, Thomas Abbe answers, “Here!”

Within the dull long-metre place.

That day, upon the parson’s ear,

And trampling down his words of grace,

A horseman’s gallop rudely beat

Along the splashed and empty street.

The rider drew his dripping rein,

And then a letter, wasp-nest gray,

That ran: “The Concord minute-men

And red-coats had a fight to-day!

To Captain Abbe this with speed.”

Twelve little words to tell the deed.

The captain read, struck out for home

The old quickstep of battle born,

Slung on once more a battered drum

That bore a painted unicorn,

Then right-about, as whirls a torch,

He stood before the sacred porch.

And then a murmuring of bees

Broke in upon the house of prayer;

And then a wind-song swept the trees,

And then a snarl from wolfish lair;

And then a charge of grenadiers,

And then a flight of drum-beat cheers.

So drum and doctrine rudely blent,

The casements rattled strange accord;

No mortal knew what either meant;

’T was double-drag and Holy Word,

Thus saith the drum, and thus the Lord.

The captain raised so wild a rout

He drummed the congregation out.

The people gathered round amazed;

The soldier bared his head and spoke,

And every sentence burned and blazed,

As trenchant as a sabre stroke:

“’T is time to pick the flint to-day,

To sling the knapsack, and away!

“The green of Lexington is red

With British red-coats, brothers’ blood!

In rightful cause the earliest dead

Are always best beloved of God.

Mark time! Now let the march begin!

All bound for Boston fall right in!”

Then rub-a-dub the drum jarred on,

The throbbing roll of battle beat;

“Fall in, my men!” and one by one

They rhymed the tune with heart and feet.

And so they made a Sabbath march

To glory ’neath the elm-tree arch.

The Continental line unwound

Along the churchyard’s breathless sod,

And holier grew the hallowed ground

Where Virtue slept and Valor trod.

Two hundred strong that April day

They rallied out and marched away.

Brigaded there at Bunker Hill,

Their names are writ on Glory’s page.

The brave old captain’s Sunday drill

Has drummed its way across the age.