I Am, Indeed, from Whittier, California.

But it was really James Thurber who turned me on to this poem, which has been going through my head all day for obvious reasons:

Barbara Frietchie

By John Greenleaf Whittier

On that pleasant morn of the early fall
When Lee marched over the mountain wall;

Over the mountains winding down,
Horse and foot, into Frederick town,

Forty flags with their silver stars,
Forty flags with their crimson bars,

Flapped in the morning wind . . .

. . . the sun
Of noon looked down, and saw not one.

Up rose old Barbara Frietchie then,
Bowed with her fourscore years and ten;

Bravest of all in Frederick town,
She took up the flag the men hauled down;

In her attic window the staff she set,
To show that one heart was loyal yet.

Up the street came the rebel tread,
Stonewall Jackson riding ahead.

Under his slouched hat left and right
He glanced; the old flag met his sight.

“Halt!” —the dust-brown ranks stood fast;
“Fire!” —out blazed the rifle-blast.

It shivered the window, pane and sash;
It rent the banner with seam and gash.

Quick, as it fell, from the broken staff
Dame Barbara snatched the silken scarf.

She leaned far out on the window-sill,
And shook it forth with a royal will.

“Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
But spare your country’s flag,” she said.

A shade of sadness, a blush of shame,
Over the face of the leader came;

The nobler nature within him stirred
To life at that woman’s deed and word;

“Who touches a hair of yon gray head
Dies like a dog! March on!” he said.

All day long through Frederick street
Sounded the tread of marching feet:

All day long that free flag tossed
Over the heads of the rebel host.

Ever its torn folds rose and fell
On the loyal winds that loved it well;

And through the hill-gaps sunset light
Shone over it with a warm good-night . . .

It isn’t quite the same without Thurber’s illustrations, which I may try to scan in tonight. But those lines: “‘Who touches a hair of yon gray head / Dies like a dog! March on!’ he said” always make me want to cry.

That is, there are principles of humanity, and decency that go beyond just about any conflict we might have as human beings. We wanted to know if we could end the evil of slavery in this country and still have a Federalist system that included reasonable states’ rights.

The jury may be out on that, but respect for the loyal opposition and deference to one’s elders are not a bad place to start in addressing our remaining challenges.

Happy Independence Day, everyone.

(Cross-posted at Little Miss Attila.)

Permalinks


Share this!

Enjoy reading? Share it with your friends!

Send this to a friend