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Alan Seeger - Ode in Memory of the American Volunteers Fallen for France

(To have been read before the statue of Lafayette and Washington in Paris, on Decoration Day, May 30, 1916). 

I

Ay, it is fitting on this holiday, 
Commemorative of our soldier dead, 
When -- with sweet flowers of our New England May 
Hiding the lichened stones by fifty years made gray -- 
Their graves in every town are garlanded, 
That pious tribute should be given too 
To our intrepid few 
Obscurely fallen here beyond the seas. 
Those to preserve their country's greatness died; 
But by the death of these 
Something that we can look upon with pride 
Has been achieved, nor wholly unreplied 
Can sneerers triumph in the charge they make 
That from a war where Freedom was at stake 
America withheld and, daunted, stood aside. 

II 

Be they remembered here with each reviving spring, 
Not only that in May, when life is loveliest, 
Around Neuville-Saint-Vaast and the disputed crest 
Of Vimy, they, superb, unfaltering, 
In that fine onslaught that no fire could halt, 
Parted impetuous to their first assault; 
But that they brought fresh hearts and springlike too 
To that high mission, and 'tis meet to strew 
With twigs of lilac and spring's earliest rose 
The cenotaph of those 
Who in the cause that history most endears 
Fell in the sunny morn and flower of their young years. 

III 

et sought they neither recompense nor praise, 
Nor to be mentioned in another breath 
Than their blue coated comrades whose great days 
It was their pride to share -- ay, share even to the death! 
Nay, rather, France, to you they rendered thanks 
(Seeing they came for honor, not for gain), 
Who, opening to them your glorious ranks, 
Gave them that grand occasion to excel, 
That chance to live the life most free from stain 
And that rare privilege of dying well. 

IV 

O friends! I know not since that war began 
From which no people nobly stands aloof 
If in all moments we have given proof 
Of virtues that were thought American. 
I know not if in all things done and said 
All has been well and good, 
Or if each one of us can hold his head 
As proudly as he should,
Or, from the pattern of those mighty dead 
Whose shades our country venerates to-day, 

If we've not somewhat fallen and somewhat gone astray. 
But you to whom our land's good name is dear, 
If there be any here 
Who wonder if her manhood be decreased, 
Relaxed its sinews and its blood less red 
Than that at Shiloh and Antietam shed, 
Be proud of these, have joy in this at least, 
And cry: "Now heaven be praised 
That in that hour that most imperilled her, 
Menaced her liberty who foremost raised 
Europe's bright flag of freedom, some there were 
Who, not unmindful of the antique debt, 
Came back the generous path of Lafayette; 
And when of a most formidable foe 
She checked each onset, arduous to stem -- 
Foiled and frustrated them -- 
On those red fields where blow with furious blow 
Was countered, whether the gigantic fray 
Rolled by the Meuse or at the Bois Sabot, 
Accents of ours were in the fierce melee; 
And on those furthest rims of hallowed ground 
Where the forlorn, the gallant charge expires, 
When the slain bugler has long ceased to sound, 
And on the tangled wires 
The last wild rally staggers, crumbles, stops, 
Withered beneath the shrapnel's iron showers: -- 
Now heaven be thanked, we gave a few brave drops; 
Now heaven be thanked, a few brave drops were ours." 

V 

There, holding still, in frozen steadfastness, 
Their bayonets toward the beckoning frontiers, 
They lie -- our comrades -- lie among their peers, 
Clad in the glory of fallen warriors, 
Grim clusters under thorny trellises, 
Dry, furthest foam upon disastrous shores, 
Leaves that made last year beautiful, still strewn 
Even as they fell, unchanged, beneath the changing moon; 
And earth in her divine indifference 
Rolls on, and many paltry things and mean 
Prate to be heard and caper to be seen. 
But they are silent, calm; their eloquence 
Is that incomparable attitude; 
No human presences their witness are, 
But summer clouds and sunset crimson-hued, 
And showers and night winds and the northern star. 
Nay, even our salutations seem profane, 
Opposed to their Elysian quietude; 
Our salutations calling from afar, 
From our ignobler plane 
And undistinction of our lesser parts: 
Hail, brothers, and farewell; you are twice blest, brave hearts. 
Double your glory is who perished thus, 
For you have died for France and vindicated us. 

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Added: May 2 2005 | Viewed: 1893 times | Comments and analysis of Ode in Memory of the American Volunteers Fallen for France by Alan Seeger Comments (1)

Ode in Memory of the American Volunteers Fallen for France - Comments and Information

Poet: Alan Seeger
Poem: Ode in Memory of the American Volunteers Fallen for France
Poem of the Day: Nov 6 2009

Comment 1 of 1, added on September 17th, 2005 at 3:45 PM.

I just visited American Legion Post #2 in Mexico City. It is named after Alan Seeger. He "was not unmindful of that antique debt" to Lafayette et al. I am amazed at how many of my fellow countrymen have forgotten it. I reference the venom spewed toward France over this debacle in Iraq. Freedom Fries etc...

Robert Smith from United States

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