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John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892). The Poetical Works in Four Volumes. 1892.

Narrative and Legendary Poems

The Angels of Buena Vista

  • A letter-writer from Mexico during the Mexican war, when detailing some of the incidents at the terrible fight of Buena Vista, mentioned that Mexican women were seen hovering near the field of death, for the purpose of giving aid and succor to the wounded One poor woman was found surrounded by the maimed and suffering of both armies, ministering to the wants of Americans as well as Mexicans, with impartial tenderness.

  • SPEAK and tell us, our Ximena, looking northward far away,

    O’er the camp of the invaders, o’er the Mexican array,

    Who is losing? who is winning? are they far or come they near?

    Look abroad, and tell us, sister, whither rolls the storm we hear.

    “Down the hills of Angostura still the storm of battle rolls;

    Blood is flowing, men are dying; God have mercy on their souls!”

    Who is losing? who is winning? “Over hill and over plain,

    I see but smoke of cannon clouding through the mountain rain.”

    Holy Mother! keep our brothers! Look, Ximena, look once more.

    “Still I see the fearful whirlwind rolling darkly as before,

    Bearing on, in strange confusion, friend and foeman, foot and horse,

    Like some wild and troubled torrent sweeping down its mountain course.”

    Look forth once more, Ximena! “Ah! the smoke has rolled away;

    And I see the Northern rifles gleaming down the ranks of gray.

    Hark! that sudden blast of bugles! there the troop of Minon wheels;

    There the Northern horses thunder, with the cannon at their heels.

    “Jesu, pity! how it thickens! now retreat and now advance!

    Right against the blazing cannon shivers Puebla’s charging lance!

    Down they go, the brave young riders; horse and foot together fall;

    Like a ploughshare in the fallow, through them ploughs the Northern ball.”

    Nearer came the storm and nearer, rolling fast and frightful on!

    Speak, Ximena, speak and tell us, who has lost, and who has won?

    “Alas! alas! I know not; friend and foe together fall,

    O’er the dying rush the living: pray, my sisters, for them all!

    “Lo! the wind the smoke is lifting. Blessed Mother, save my brain!

    I can see the wounded crawling slowly out from heaps of slain.

    Now they stagger, blind and bleeding; now they fall, and strive to rise;

    Hasten, sisters, haste and save them, lest they die before our eyes!

    “O my heart’s love! O my dear one! lay thy poor head on my knee;

    Dost thou know the lips that kiss thee? Canst thou hear me? canst thou see?

    O my husband, brave and gentle! O my Bernal, look once more

    On the blessed cross before thee! Mercy! mercy! all is o’er!”

    Dry thy tears, my poor Ximena; lay thy dear one down to rest;

    Let his hands be meekly folded, lay the cross upon his breast;

    Let his dirge be sung hereafter, and his funeral masses said;

    To-day, thou poor bereaved one, the living ask thy aid.

    Close beside her, faintly moaning, fair and young, a soldier lay,

    Torn with shot and pierced with lances, bleeding slow his life away;

    But, as tenderly before him the lorn Ximena knelt,

    She saw the Northern eagle shining on his pistol-belt.

    With a stifled cry of horror straight she turned away her head;

    With a sad and bitter feeling looked she back upon her dead;

    But she heard the youth’s low moaning, and his struggling breath of pain,

    And she raised the cooling water to his parching lips again.

    Whispered low the dying soldier, pressed her hand and faintly smiled;

    Was that pitying face his mother’s? did she watch beside her child?

    All his stranger words with meaning her woman’s heart supplied;

    With her kiss upon his forehead, “Mother!” murmured he, and died!

    “A bitter curse upon them, poor boy, who led thee forth,

    From some gentle, sad-eyed mother, weeping, lonely, in the North!”

    Spake the mournful Mexic woman, as she laid him with her dead,

    And turned to soothe the living, and bind the wounds which bled.

    Look forth once more, Ximena! “Like a cloud before the wind

    Rolls the battle down the mountains, leaving blood and death behind;

    Ah! they plead in vain for mercy; in the dust the wounded strive;

    Hide your faces, holy angels! O thou Christ of God, forgive!”

    Sink, O Night, among thy mountains! let the cool, gray shadows fall;

    Dying brothers, fighting demons, drop thy curtain over all!

    Through the thickening winter twilight, wide apart the battle rolled,

    In its sheath the sabre rested, and the cannon’s lips grew cold.

    But the noble Mexic women still their holy task pursued,

    Through that long, dark night of sorrow, worn and faint and lacking food.

    Over weak and suffering brothers, with a tender care they hung,

    And the dying foeman blessed them in a strange and Northern tongue.

    Not wholly lost, O Father! is this evil world of ours;

    Upward, through its blood and ashes, spring afresh the Eden flowers;

    From its smoking hell of battle, Love and Pity send their prayer,

    And still thy white-winged angels hover dimly in our air!