...Slow to argue, but quick to act.
That was the reason, so some folks say,
He fought so well on that terrible day...
Just where the tide of battle turns,
Erect and lonely, stood old John Burns.
How do you think the man was dressed?
He wore an ancient, long buff vest,
Yellow as saffron, but his best;
And, buttoned over his manly breast,
Was a bright blue coat with a rolling collar.
And large gilt buttons, size of a dollar,
With tails that the country-folk called "swaller."
He wore a broad-brimmed, bell-crowned hat,
White as the locks on which it sat.
Never had such a sight been seen
For forty years on the village green,
Since old John Burns was a country beau,
And went to the "quiltings" long ago.
...Through the ranks in whispers, and some men saw,
In the antique vestments and long white hair,
The Past of the Nation in battle there;
And some of the soldiers since declare
That the gleam of his old white hat afar,
Like the crested plume of the brave Navarre,
That day was their oriflamme of war.
And it was terrible. On the right
Raged for hours the heady fight,
Thundered the battery's bouble brass,
Difficult music for men to face;
While on the left, where now the graves
Undulate like the living waves
That all the day unceasing swept
Up to the pits the rebels kept.
So raged the battle. You know the rest:
How the rebels, beaten and backward pressed,
Broke at the final charge and ran.
At which John Burns, a practical man,
Shouldered his rifle, unbent his brows,
and then went back to his bees and cows.
(with apologies to Francis Bret Harte. The complete poem is to found on the Internet.)