The Scout Toward Aldie

Herman Melville 1819 – 1891

The cavalry-camp lies on the slope
Of what was late a vernal hill,
But now like a pavement bare-
An outpost in the perilous wilds
Which ever are lone and still;
But Mosby's men are there -
Of Mosby best beware.

Great trees the troopers felled, and leaned
In antlered walls about their tents;
Strict watch they kept; 'twas Hark! and Mark!
Unarmed none cared to stir abroad
For berries beyond their forest-fence:
As glides in seas the shark,
Rides Mosby through green dark.

All spake of him, but few had seen
Except the maimed ones or the low;
Yet rumor made him every thing-
A farmer-woodman-refugee-
The man who crossed the field but now;
A spell about his life did cling -
Who to the ground shall Mosby bring?

The morning-bugles lonely play,
Lonely the evening-bugle calls -
Unanswered voices in the wild;
The settled hush of birds in nest
Becharms, and all the wood enthralls:
Memory's self is so beguiled
That Mosby seems a satyr's child.

They lived as in the Eerie Land-
The fire-flies showed with fairy gleam;
And yet from pine-tops one might ken
The Capitol dome-hazy-sublime-
A vision breaking on a dream:
So strange it was that Mosby's men
Should dare to prowl where the Dome was seen.

A scout toward Aldie broke the spell. -
The Leader lies before his tent
Gazing at heaven's all-cheering lamp
Through blandness of a morning rare;
His thoughts on bitter-sweets are bent:
His sunny bride is in the camp -
But Mosby - graves are beds of damp!

The trumpet calls; he goes within;
But none the prayer and sob may know:
Her hero he, but bridegroom too.
Ah, love in a tent is a queenly thing,
And fame, be sure, refines the vow;
But fame fond wives have lived to rue,
And Mosby's men fell deeds can do.

Tan-tara! tan-tara! tan-tara!
Mounted and armed he sits a king;
For pride she smiles if now she peep -
Elate he rides at the head of his men;
He is young, and command is a boyish thing:
They file out into the forest deep -
Do Mosby and his rangers sleep?

The sun is gold, and the world is green,
Opal the vapors of morning roll;
The champing horses lightly prance -
Full of caprice, and the riders too
Curving in many a caricole.
But marshaled soon, by fours advance -
Mosby had checked that airy dance.

By the hospital-tent the cripples stand -
Bandage, and crutch, and cane, and sling,
And palely eye the brave array;
The froth of the cup is gone for them
(Caw! caw! the crows through the blueness wing);
Yet these were late as bold, as gay;
But Mosby - a clip, and grass is hay.

How strong they feel on their horses free,
Tingles the tendoned thigh with life;
Their cavalry-jackets make boys of all -
With golden breasts like the oriole;
The chat, the jest, and laugh are rife.
But word is passed from the front - a call
For order; the wood is Mosby's hall.

To which behest one rider sly
(Spurred, but unarmed) gave little heed -
Of dexterous fun not slow or spare,
He teased his neighbors of touchy mood,
Into plungings he pricked his steed:
A black-eyed man on a coal-black mare,
Alive as Mosby in mountain air.

His limbs were long, and large and round;
He whispered, winked-did all but shout:
A healthy man for the sick to view;
The taste in his mouth was sweet at morn;
Little of care he cared about.
And yet of pains and pangs he knew -
In others, maimed by Mosby's crew.

The Hospital Steward - even he
(Sacred in person as a priest),
And on his coat-sleeve broidered nice
Wore the caduceus, black and green.
No wonder he sat so light on his beast;
This cheery man in suit of price
Not even Mosby dared to slice.

They pass the picket by the pine
And hollow log - a lonesome place;
His horse adroop, and pistol clean;
'Tis cocked - kept leveled toward the wood;
Strained vigilance ages his childish face.
Since midnight has that stripling been
Peering for Mosby through the green.

Splashing they cross the freshet-flood,
And up the muddy bank they strain;
A horse at the spectral white-ash shies -
One of the span of the ambulance,
Black as a hearse. They give the rein:
Silent speed on a scout were wise,
Could cunning baffle Mosby's spies.

Rumor had come that a band was lodged
In green retreats of hills that peer
By Aldie (famed for the swordless charge).
Much store they'd heaped of captured arms <
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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Herman Melville

Herman Melville was an American writer best known for the novel Moby-Dick. more…

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"The Scout Toward Aldie" Poetry.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2020. Web. 7 Aug. 2020. <https://www.poetry.net/poem/19130/the-scout-toward-aldie>.

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