Out of the clover and blue-eyed grass
He turned them into the river lane;
One after another he let them pass,
Then fastened the meadow bars again.
Under the willows and over the hill,
He patiently followed their sober pace;
The merry whistle for once was still,
And something shadowed the sunny face.
Only a boy! and his father had said
He never could let his youngest go:
Two already were lying dead,
Under the feet of the trampling foe.
But after the evening work was done,
And the frogs were loud in the meadow-swamp,
Over his shoulder he slung his gun,
And stealthily followed the footpath damp.
Across the clover, and through the wheat,
With resolute heart and purpose grim:
Though the dew was on his hurrying feet,
And the blind bat's flitting startled him.
Thrice since then had the lanes been white,
And the orchards sweet with apple-bloom;
And now, when the cows came back at night,
The feeble father drove them home.
For news had come to the lonely farm
That three were lying where two had lain;
And the old man's tremulous, palsied arm
Could never lean on a son's again.
The summer day grew cool and late:
He went for the cows when the work was done;
But down the lane, as he opened the gate,
He saw them coming one by one:
Brindle, Ebony, Speckle, and Bess,
Shaking their horns in the evening wind;
Cropping the buttercups out of the grass,
But who was it following close behind?
Loosely swung in the idle air
The empty sleeve of army blue;
And worn and pale, from the crisping hair,
Looked out a face that the father knew.
For close-barred prisons will sometimes yawn,
And yield their dead unto life again;
And the day that comes with a cloudy dawn,
In golden glory at last may wane.
The great tears sprang to their meeting eyes;
For the heart must speak when the lips are dumb,
And under the silent evening skies
Together they followed the cattle home.