“A Nameless Grave”-A poem by H.W.Longfellow

‘A soldier of the Union mustered out,’
Is the inscription on an unknown grave
At Newport News, beside the salt-sea wave,
Nameless and dateless; sentinel or scout
Shot down in skirmish, or disastrous rout
Of battle, when the loud artillery drave
Its iron wedges through the ranks of brave
And doomed battalions, storming the redoubt.
Thou unknown hero sleeping by the sea
In thy forgotten grave! with secret shame
I feel my pulses beat, my forehead burn,
When I remember thou hast given for me
All that thou hadst, thy life, thy very name,
And I can give thee nothing in return.

 

Though the poem is fairly simple in the theme and the poet has handled it without complicated imagery, I love the way the poet used certain terms to bring home the pathos of an unknown soldier killed in action, “unwept”, “unhonored” “unsung” (Using Scott’s famous last line in Breathes there.…)

Mustered out:

Mustering means gathering in assembly.Mustered out should therefore imply a fallen soldier being taken out of the active soldiers group. The man has no name and is merely “a” soldier of the Union. He is merely mustered out.

Unknown grave:

The grave is unknown bearing no name of its occupant on the inscription. Since no one knows him, his grave remains unknown by the sea.

Nameless and dateless:

Nameless is heart wrenching but more so when the inscription bears no dates of the soldier’s existence. He could have been from any period of human history, an archetypal soldier who dies for others and is quickly forgotten.

With secret shame I feel my pulses beat:

He died for me and here I am ,my own pulses guiltily beating. I do not even know his name . As he sleeps in an unknown grave I realize he has given me his life as well as his name.I flaunt my name here and my pulses still beat because this unknown soldier of the Union mustered out and is lying here without a name. That is my secret shame.

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