To fight aloud is very brave…
To fight aloud is very brave,
But gallanter, I know,
Who charge within the bosom,
The cavalry of woe.
Who win, and nations do not see,
Who fall, and none observe,
Whose dying eyes no country
Regards with patriot love.
We trust, in plumed procession,
For such the angels go,
Rank after rank, with even feet
And uniforms of snow.
At the risk of sounding like a noodle-brained yahoo and offending English majors across the nation, I confess that I am not an Emily Dickinson fan. She sometimes frightens me the way birds do.
But I was in northern Michigan over Memorial Day weekend with no poems at my disposal except what I could tear out of a 1942 college freshman English textbook I had taken from my father’s collection. There I found “To Fight Aloud Is Very Brave,” a poem I had never read before, and as you will see, have not had much time to consider.
I usually get tangled up in Emily Dickinson’s syntax. I lose the thread of her phrases and sentences, where the subject is and what it’s doing, and I end up with a jumbled mess in my head. This poem I was able to understand, at least the first two stanzas.
Obviously she didn’t intend the poem as a tribute to the families of fallen soldiers, but that’s what it made me think of this Memorial Day. Today we salute those who gave their lives for our country, but let’s also remember the families who are left behind to fight “within the bosom/the cavalry of woe.” Their silent and unseen battles with grief are brave indeed.
On a less serious note: the third stanza has me befuddled. I have no idea what it means. A little help, please, if you get it.
We trust they are going where the angels go – with their own wings (plumed procession) – all to Heaven – feet in a row – and uniforms of snow – white snowy robes – as in Revelations. Who is going – the ones who fought aloud and all know about ? Or th3e ones who fight the battle interiorly?
To me, the final stanza is the most moving. It is a description of that horrible, numbing, grief that blinds us to everything else. Imagine the people, and the angels, marching through a dense cloud of snow. Can’t see anything else. But there is this submission in joining all the others who also grieve “rank after rank, with even feet.” The angels are there in a kind of solidarity, as guides to those who must live on, with their suffering. I personally imagine these angels as very strong, eternal, compassionate, who will be doing this work forever.
Beautiful, thanks for sharing!