James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

May 2

The Brier-wood Pipe

By Charles Dawson Shanly (1811–1875)

  • This poem commemorates the passage of the Fire Zouaves through Washington, May 2, 1861.

  • HA! Bully for me, again, when my turn for picket is over;

    And now for a smoke, as I lie, with the moonlight, out in the clover,

    My pipe, it’s only a knot from the root of the brier-wood tree;

    But it turns my heart to the northward—Harry gave it to me.

    And I’m but a rough, at best—bred up in the row and the riot,

    But a softness comes over my heart when all are asleep and quiet.

    For many a time in the night strange things appear to my eye,

    As the breath from my brier-wood pipe sails up between me and the sky.

    Last night a beautiful spirit arose with the wisping smoke;

    O, I shook, but my heart felt good as it spread out its hands and spoke,

    Saying, “I am the soul of the brier; we grew at the root of a tree,

    Where lovers would come in the twilight, two ever, for company;

    Where lovers would come in the morning, ever but two together;

    When the flowers were full in their blow, the birds in their song and feather;

    Where lovers would come in the noon-time, loitering, never but two:

    Looking in each other’s eyes, like the pigeons that kiss and coo

    And O, the honeyed words that came when the lips were parted,

    And the passion that glowed in eyes, and the lightning looks that darted.

    Enough: love dwells in the pipe, so ever it glows with fire!

    I am the soul of the bush, and spirits call me ‘sweet-brier’.”

    That’s what the brier-wood said, as nigh as my tongue can tell;

    And the words went straight to my heart, like the stroke of the fire bell!

    To-night I lie in the clover watching the blossoming smoke;

    I’m glad the boys are asleep, for I ain’t in the humor to joke.

    I lie in the hefty clover: between me and the moon

    The smoke from my pipe arises: my heart will be quiet soon.

    My thoughts are back in the city. I’m everything I’ve been.

    I hear the bell from the tower, I run with the swift machine.

    I see the red shirts crowding around the engine-house door;

    The foreman’s hail through the trumpet comes with a sullen roar.

    The reel in the Bowery dance-house, the row in the beer saloon,

    When I put in my licks at Big Paul, come between me and the moon.

    I hear the drum and the bugle, the tramp of the cowskin boots;

    We are marching to the capital, the Fire Zouave recruits!

    White handkerchiefs move before me: O, but the sight is pretty!

    On the white marble steps, as we march through the heart of the city,

    Bright eyes and clasping arms, and lips that bid us good hap,

    And the splendid lady who gave me the havelock for my cap.

    O, up from my pipe-cloud rises, between me and the moon,

    A beautiful white-robed lady: my heart will be quiet soon.

    The lovely golden-haired lady ever in dreams I see,

    Who gave me the snow-white havelock—but what does she care for me?

    Look at my grimy features: mountains between us stand—

    I with my sledge-hammer knuckles, she with her jewelled hand!

    What care I? The day that’s dawning may see me, when all is over,

    With the red stream of my life-blood staining the hefty clover.

    Hark! the reveille sounding out on the morning air!

    Devils are we for the battle—will there be angels there?

    Kiss me again, sweet-brier! The touch of your lips to mine

    Brings back the white-robed lady, with hair like the golden wine!