In the Wilderness

By George Henry Boker 1823–1890 George Henry Boker
Mangled, uncared for, suffering thro’ the night
    With heavenly patience the poor boy had lain;
Under the dreary shadows, left and right,
    Groaned on the wounded, stiffened out the slain.
      What faith sustained his lone,
      Brave heart to make no moan,
To send no cry from that blood-sprinkled sod,
Is a close mystery with him and God.
 
But when the light came, and the morning dew
    Glittered around him, like a golden lake,
And every dripping flower with deepened hue
    Looked through its tears for very pity’s sake,
      He moved his aching head
      Upon his rugged bed,
And smiled as a blue violet, virgin-meek,
Laid her pure kiss upon his withered cheek.
 
At once there circled in his waking heart
    A thousand memories of distant home;
Of how those same blue violets would start
    Along his native fields, and some would roam
      Down his dear humming brooks,
      To hide in secret nooks,
And, shyly met, in nodding circles swing,
Like gossips murmuring at belated Spring.
 
And then he thought of the beloved hands
    That with his own had plucked the modest flower.
The blue-eyed maiden, crowned with golden bands,
    Who ruled as sovereign of that sunny hour.
      She at whose soft command
      He joined the mustering band,
She for whose sake he lay so firm and still,
Despite his pangs, not questioned then her will.
 
So, lost in thought, scarce conscious of the deed,
    Culling the violets, here and there he crept
Slowly—ah! slowly,—for his wound would bleed;
    And the sweet flowers themselves half smiled, half wept,
      To be thus gathered in
      By hands so pale and thin,
By fingers trembling as they neatly laid
Stem upon stem, and bound them in a braid.
 
The strangest posy ever fashioned yet
    Was clasped against the bosom of the lad,
As we, the seekers for the wounded, set
    His form upon our shoulders bowed and sad;
      Though he but seemed to think
      How violets nod and wink;
And as we cheered him, for the path was wild,
He only looked upon his flowers and smiled.

Source: “Words for the Hour”: A New Anthology of American Civil War Poetry, edited by Faith Barrett and Cristanne Miller (University of Massachusetts Press, 2005)

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Poet George Henry Boker 1823–1890

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Living, Death, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

Biography

George Henry Boker was born in Philidelphia in 1823, the son of a well-off banker. Boker attended Princeton, where he garnered a reputation as a talented young poet, and eventually abandoned law for literature. A poet, playwright, and diplomat, Boker helped found the Union Club (now the Union League of Philadelphia) in 1862 as part of an effort to raise funds for the Civil War and encourage enlistment. After the war, Boker acted . . .

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Poems by George Henry Boker

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SUBJECT Living, Death, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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