Driving Home the Cows

Kate Putnam Osgood
  • Out of the clover and blue-eyed grass,
  • He turned them into the river-lane;
  • One after another he let them pass,
  • Then fastened the meadow bars again.
  • Under the willows and over the hill,
  • He patiently followed their sober pace;
  • The merry whistle for once was still,
  • And something shadowed the sunny face.
  • Only a boy! and his father had said
  • He never could let his youngest go:
  • Two already were lying dead
  • Under the feet of the trampling foe.
  • But after the evening work was done,
  • And the frogs were loud in the meadow-swamp,
  • Over his shoulder he slung his gun,
  • And stealthily followed the foot-path damp,—
  • Across the clover and through the wheat,
  • With resolute heart and purpose grim,
  • Though cold was the dew on his hurrying feet,
  • And the blind bats flitting startled him.
  • Thrice since then had the lanes been white,
  • And the orchards sweet with apple-bloom;
  • And now, when the cows came back at night,
  • The feeble father drove them home.
  • For news had come to the lonely farm
  • That three were lying where two had lain;
  • And the old man’s tremulous, palsied arm
  • Could never lean on a son’s again.
  • The summer day grew cold and late;
  • He went for the cows when the work was done;
  • But down the lane, as he opened the gate,
  • He saw them coming, one by one,—
  • Brindle, Ebony, Speckle, and Bess,
  • Shaking their horns in the evening wind,
  • Cropping the buttercups out of the grass—
  • But who was it following close behind?
  • Loosely swang in the idle air
  • The empty sleeve of army blue;
  • And worn and pale, from the crisping hair,
  • Looked out a face that the father knew;—
  • For Southern prisons will sometimes yawn,
  • And yield their dead unto life again;
  • And the day that comes with a cloudy dawn
  • In golden glory at last may wane.
  • The great tears sprang to their meeting eyes;
  • For the heart must speak when the lips are dumb,
  • And under the silent evening skies
  • Together they followed the cattle home.

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