A Thanksgiving Poem

November 27, 1997 at 12:00 AM EDT


ROBERT PINSKY, Poet Laureate: I’m going to read a Thanksgiving poem by an almost forgotten 19th century poet named Lucy Larcom–L-a-r-c-o-m. It’s not a great poem, but it’s a touching poem and very well written. Lucy Larcom reminds us that in the 19th century poetry did what a well-made topical made-for-TV movie might do. In her poem, a Union soldier in the Civil War, a young man who was a schoolboy just a few years before, is stationed in Georgia, and he remembers the Thanksgivings at home.

Here are parts of Lucy Larcom’s poem: “The Volunteer’s Thanksgiving.”

He remembers the Northern Thanksgiving. 
They’re sitting at the table this clear Thanksgiving noon;
I smell the crispy turkey, the pies will come in soon-
The golden squares of pumpkin, the flaky mounds of mince,
Behind the barberry syrups, the cranberry, and the quince.

Be sure my mouth does water, but then I am content
To stay and do the errand on which I have been sent. 
A soldier mustn’t grumble at salt beef and hard-tack: 
We’ll have a grand Thanksgiving, if ever we get back!

I’m very sure they miss me at dinner-time to-day,
For I was good at stowing the provender away. 
When Mother clears the table, and wipes the clatters bright, 
She’ll say, ‘I hope my baby don’t lose his appetite!’”

A bit further on:

Oh, dear! the Southern air grows sultry. I’d wish myself at home 
Were it a whit less noble, the cause for which I’ve come
Four years ago a school-boy; as foolish now as then! 
But greatly they don’t differ, I fancy, boys and men.

I’m just 19 to-morrow, and I shall surely stay
For freedom’s final battle, be it until I’m gray, 
Unless a Southern bullet should take me off my feet. 
There’s nothing left to live for if Rebeldom should beat;

For home and love and honor and freedom are at stake, 
And life may well be given for our dear Union’s sake. 
So reads the Proclamation, and so the sermon ran;
Do ministers and people feel it as soldiers can?

When will it all be ended? ‘Tis not in youth to hold 
in quietness and patience, like people grave and old:
A year? three? four? or seven?– O, then, when I return, 
Put on a big log, mother, and let it blaze and burn,

And roast your fattest turkey, bake all the pies you can,
And, if she isn’t married, invite in Mary Ann! 
Hang flags from every window! We’ll all be glad and gay,
For peace will light the country on that Thanksgiving Day.