Monday, May 26, 2014

Monday's Poetry: "Decoration Day"

by Pa Rock

This is Memorial Day, a holiday founded in 1868 by the head of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union Veterans from the Civil War.  The holiday was originally known as "Decoration Day" and its purpose was to honor the war dead by decorating their graves with flowers.   It was observed each year on May 30th, a date on which flowers would be blooming in most places across the country.

Fifty years later, at the close of World War I, Decoration Day was expanded to include the graves of the dead from all wars.  In 1971 the name of the holiday was changed to Memorial Day, and it has become the day on which many families visit and decorate the graves of their dead, whether they happen to have died in a war or not.  It is now celebrated on the last Monday in May to insure that most of us have a three-day weekend to relax and be with our families - and take the time to decorate a few graves.

My father and mother always took pride in visiting the cemeteries where their relatives were buried and decorating graves the last Monday in May.  I never heard either of them ever refer to the holiday as anything other than "Decoration Day."

The following poem, "Decoration Day," was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of America's premier poets, and first published in The Atlantic in June of 1882 - just a few short weeks after the death of Longfellow.

Decoration Day
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Sleep, comrades, sleep and rest
On this Field of the Grounded Arms,
Where foes no more molest,
Nor sentry's shot alarms!

Ye have slept on the ground before,
And started to your feet
At the cannon's sudden roar,
Or the drum's redoubling beat.

But in this camp of Death
No sound your slumber breaks;
Here is no fevered breath,
No wound that bleeds and aches.

All is repose and peace,
Untrampled lies the sod;
The shouts of battle cease,
It is the Truce of God!

Rest, comrades, rest and sleep!
The thoughts of men shall be
As sentinels to keep
Your rest from danger free.

Your silent tents of green
We deck with fragrant flowers
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory shall be ours.

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