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Thomas R. Lounsbury, ed. (1838–1915). Yale Book of American Verse. 1912.

John Greenleaf Whittier 1807–1892

John Greenleaf Whittier

82 What the Birds Said

THE BIRDS against the April wind

Flew northward, singing as they flew;

They sang, “The land we leave behind

Has swords for corn-blades, blood for dew.”

“O wild-birds, flying from the South,

What saw and heard ye, gazing down?”

“We saw the mortar’s upturned mouth,

The sickened camp, the blazing town!

“Beneath the bivouac’s starry lamps,

We saw your march-worn children die;

In shrouds of moss, in cypress swamps,

We saw your dead uncoffined lie.

“We heard the starving prisoner’s sighs,

And saw, from line and trench, your sons

Follow our flight with home-sick eyes

Beyond the battery’s smoking guns.”

“And heard and saw ye only wrong

And pain,” I cried, “O wing-worn flocks?”

“We heard,” they sang, “the freedman’s song,

The crash of Slavery’s broken locks!

“We saw from new, uprising States

The treason-nursing mischief spurned,

As, crowding Freedom’s ample gates,

The long-estranged and lost returned.

“O’er dusky faces, seamed and old,

And hands horn-hard with unpaid toil,

With hope in every rustling fold,

We saw your star-dropt flag uncoil.

“And struggling up through sounds accursed,

A grateful murmur clomb the air;

A whisper scarcely heard at first,

It filled the listening heavens with prayer.

“And sweet and far, as from a star,

Replied a voice which shall not cease,

Till, drowning all the noise of war,

It sings the blessed song of peace!”

So to me, in a doubtful day

Of chill and slowly greening spring,

Low stooping from the cloudy gray,

The wild-birds sang or seemed to sing.

They vanished in the misty air,

The song went with them in their flight;

But lo! they left the sunset fair,

And in the evening there was light.