poetry quarterly

10th anniversary


Charlotte L. Forten Grimké



Through all the city's streets there poured a flood,
A flood of human souls, eager, intent;
One thought, one purpose stirred the people's blood,
And through their veins its quickening current sent.

The flags waved gayly in the summer air,
O'er patient watchers 'neath the clouded skies;
Old age, and youth, and infancy were there,
The glad light shining in expectant eyes.

And when at last our county's saviors came,—
In proud procession down the crowded street,
Still brighter burned the patriotic flame,
And loud acclaims leaped forth their steps to greet.

And now the veterans scarred and maimed appear,
And now the tattered battle-flags uprise;
A silence deep one moment fills the air,
Then shout on shout ascends unto the skies.

Oh, brothers, ye have borne the battle strain,
And ye have felt it through the ling'ring years;
For all your valiant deeds, your hours of pain,
We can but give to you our grateful tears!

And now, with heads bowed low, and tear-filled eyes
We see a Silent Army passing slow;
For it no music swells, no shouts arise,
But silent blessings from our full hearts flow.

The dead, the living,—All,—a glorious host,
A "cloud of witnesses,"—around us press—
Shall we, like them, stand faithful at our post,
Or weekly yield, unequal to the stress?

Shall it be said the land they fought to save,
Ungrateful now, proves faithless to her trust?
Shall it be said the sons of sires so brave
Now trail her scared banner i the dust?

Ah, no! again shall rise the people's voice
As once it rose in accents clear and high—
"Oh, outraged brother, lift your head, rejoice!
Justice shall reign,—Insult and Wrong shall die!"

So shall this day the joyous promise be
Of golden days for our fair land in store;
When Freedom's flag shall float above the free,
And Love and Peace prevail from shore to shore.


Charlotte L. Forten Grimké (1837-1914) was born into the leading free African-American family of Philadelphia. She was an ardent abolitionist, occasionally giving public lectures on the subject as a young woman, and she taught freed slaves on St. Helena Island, South Carolina, for two years at the end of the Civil War. After that time, she settled in Washington, DC, where she worked for the US Treasury Department, until her marriage to the Reverend Francis James Grimké in 1878, at age 41. She hosted salons and parties that made their home a social and cultural center. Between 1855 and the late 1890s, she published 15 poems and approximately the same number of essays in African American periodicals. She also kept a diary which was published posthumously.

This poem, written in 1890, recalls the two-day-long Grand Review of the Armies that took place along Pennsylvania Avenue from Capitol Hill to the White House on May 23 and 24, 1865. Grimke witnessed the parade personally, and remembers here the emotions the event stirred, and the hopes that the memory will continue to spur citizens in the decades after to continue to fight for civil rights.


Published in Volume 11, Number 4, Fall 2010.