John A. Joyce

Decoration Day Poem

Oak Hill Cemetery, May 30, 1895

Grand Home of the Dead! we mourn as we tread
…..Near the forms that crumble below;
How sad and how still the graves on Oak Hill,
…..‘Neath the sunlight in bright golden glow.

Here’s a rough, rude stone, moss-grown and alone,
…..Where old Time has left not a trace
Of the name it bore in the days of yore,
…..After brain and body ceased race.

Vain, vain is the thought; no one ever bought
…..Exemption from final decay—
To live and to rot, and then be forgot,
…..The fate of the quick of today.

The soldier and sage from age unto age
…..Have slept ‘neath these towering trees;
The young and the old, the bright and the bold
…..Are sung by the breath of the breeze.

Brave Babcock in peace here finds his surcease
…..From sorrows that troubled his life;
And rests with his God, beneath the green sod,
…..Away from this cold world of strife.

Here Reno retires from war’s flaming fires
…..To shine with immortals above,
And bivouac there, devoid of all care,
…..In realms of infinite love.

Here Morris, the brave, a king of the wave,
…..Doth slumber beneath the old flag;
Hero so grand, on the famed “Cumberland,”
…..And bold as a tall mountain crag.

While ocean shall roar on rock-beaten shore
…..The memory of Morris shall be
A great loyal light for freedom’s fair fight
…..On river, on land, and on sea.

And Stanton; the grand, stood out for this land,
…..When Rebellion reared up its fierce face;
Calmly reposes ‘neath beds of sweet roses—
…..A lone hero, in war’s ruin race.

His great iron arm kept the Union from harm
…..While he smashed all the foes in its way—
As great Lincoln, his Chief, looked on with deep grief
…..At the war ‘twixt the Blue and the Gray.

As years roll along, with sorrow or song,
…..His name shall grow braver and brighter—
A Puritan true, who knew what to do
…..With soldiers and Grant, the great fighter.

Here sleeps fine Van Ness who knew no distress,
…..While Burns expended his gold,
A Senator true, who b’lieved in the Blue,
…..A gentleman honest and bold.

Great Lorenzo Dow, who never knew how
…..To garnish his truth with a lie,
Sleeps under these flowers through May’s golden hours,
…..Illumined by the sun and the sky.

Here, Corcoran, the sage, Bishop Pinckney, broad guage,
…..Repose under marble so white;
They’ve gone to a land, bright, blooming, and grand,
…..Where never, up there, is a night.

Here, John Howard Payne sings again that refrain
…..That thrills us wherever we roam;
O’er land or o’er sea, our hearts still shall be
…..The Mecca of dear Home, Sweet Home.

O’er the flight of the years, with smiles or with tears,
…..The memory of Payne shall remain;
And millions unborn, in twilight and morn
…..Shall sing his immortal refrain.

Let soldier and sage from age unto age
…..Richly have all their merit and praise;
But the poet will be a light for the free
…..To the end of our last, dawning days.

Count Bodisco sleeps here, where trees shed a tear
…..O’er the grave of the Muscovite peer—
Away from all ill he rests on Oak Hill,
…..A memory from year unto year.

Dick Merrick lies here, a bright, brilliant seer,
…..A lawyer of lingering renown,
Who fought every wrong of the cruel and strong
…..In county or city or town.

Here rests the bright Blaine, in sunshine and rain,
…..Who left his imprint on the Nation,
A keen, brainy mind, devoted and kind,
…..Well fitted to fill a great station.

No shaft marks his grave to tell traveler or slave
…..Where that proud, loyal heart lowly lies;
Yet the tall pines of Maine sigh in sorrow for Blaine
…..As they toss their green heads to the skies.

Our sweet little child, so simple and mild,
…..Sleeps here under roses so fair;
Yet, soon we shall go to a clime where no woe
…..Or sighs can corrode us with care.

Mother and sister, sweetheart and wife,
…..Repose from their labors on earth;
Resting alone, away from all strife,
…..Where the soul finds a happy, new birth.

Yet the citizens dead have always been wed
…..To Liberty, Friendship, and Truth—
Must be honored as well as soldiers who fell
…..In the pride of their brave, loyal youth.

Then, strew sweetest flowers o’er the soldier,
…..But remember the citizen, too,
Who stood by his conscience in trouble—
…..And supported the Gray or the Blue.

God bless our grand Nation forever,
…..God bless every heart, fond and true;
God bless any soul that won’t sever,
…..The Gray from the Red, White, and Blue!


Published in Volume 11-4, Fall 2010, Mapping the City: DC Places, Part II

John A. Joyce (1842 - 1915) was a Colonel in the Union Army during the Civil War, serving with the 24th Kentucky Infantry. Raised in West Virginia and Kentucky, after the war he settled in DC, earned a law degree, and worked for the Internal Revenue Service. He is the author of several books of poems, including Jewels of Memory, Zig-Zag, Brickbats and Bouquets, and Complete Poems. He also published a memoir, A Checkered Life. Joyce is buried in the cemetery he writes about in this poem, located in the Georgetown neighborhood. True to his own words, "to live and to rot, and then be forgot," Joyce is little read or remembered today. His sentimental poem captures Washington thirty years after the Civil War ended, a city so completely transformed by the experience of the war that it still seemed omnipresent.