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Sestina for Gettysburg

By C.R. McCarthy
9/1/2016 • HistoryNet

July is hot in Pennsylvania. The mercury will measure
Into the heights of the glass like a rising red tide.
But the earth there knows nothing of the seas, save the roar
Of the crashing waves of blue and gray as line
After line rippled through the wheat field
Seven score and more years ago, smashing brother against brother, all to hold

Another hot acre. For each side did hold
A will, a cause, and each prepared to measure
Their passions on the fevered field
Of battle. In this place, the South’s high tide,
For they had crossed the Mason-Dixon Line,
The two wills met with violence now romantic, and a roar

Heard through our history. We wonder what the roar
Of the cannons, of the men, did sound like. To hold
Their struggles in our minds, to see their mouths set in a grim line,
These terrors and resolve we find hard to measure,
We who sit armchair comfortable and who let the tide
Of history come no more than ankle deep. We fear the field

Of honor these men hallowed. Could we cross the open field
Under swarms of minne balls with the roar
Of blood in our ears? Or would we sink under the tide
Of shot, of terror? And would we hold
Against the crashing waves and prove our measure,
Our mettle? For it is a thin line

Between fearless and foolhardy, an unforgiving line
That saw its share of both displayed on that July field,
During those lethal fireworks too countless to measure
Too sorrowful to celebrate. The roar
Still echoes, from Round Top to Culp’s Hill as tourists calmly hold
Court, never having to face the flood tide

Of flashing bayonets, or cavalry charge. The tide
Of history only flows one way, a line
That moves forward, like the boys of Gettysburg. Now we hold
Self-evident our Union, our freedoms won on that field.
Listen quietly: the hills still hold the ghostly roar
Of those who went before, each praying they would live up to their own measure.

So keep your eye on the tide of history, as told on the bloody field
Of Gettysburg. Mind the line between passion and reason, lest the roar
Of glory drown the voices of those we hold dear, those who have given their last full measure.

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