Rouge Bouquet,

Joyce Kilmer

Kilmer was an editor of Funk and Wagnall’s dictionary, a literary editor of an Anglican Church newspaper and a staff member of the New York Times prior to his enlisting in 1917. He was eventually given the position of Senior Regimental Statistician for the 165th New York National Guard battalion. Stationed in France, he was promoted to sergeant and became an observer of the division’s intelligence staff. Part of his duty was to gather information. Kilmer was killed by a sniper’s bullet on July 30th, 1918, at the Battle of the Ourcq. He is best known for three exceptional war poems. “Rouge Bouquet, which was written prior to his leaving for France, “Memorial Day,” and “When the Sixty-Ninth Comes Back,” a poem put to music by Victor Herbert and played by the Regimental Band’s march up Fifth Avenue following the war.
 
“Rouge Bouquet”
 
In a wood they call the Rouge Bouquet
There is a new-made grave to-day,
Built by never a spade nor pick
Yet covered with earth ten meters thick.
There lie many fighting men,
    Dead in their youthful prime,
Never to laugh nor love again
    Nor taste the Summertime.
For Death came flying through the air
And stopped his flight at the dugout stair,
Touched his prey and left them there,
    Clay to clay.
He hid their bodies stealthily
In the soil of the land they fought to free
    And fled away.
Now over the grave abrupt and clear
    Three volleys ring;
And perhaps their brave young spirits hear
    The bugle sing:
“Go to sleep!
Go to sleep!
Slumber well where the shell screamed and fell.
Let your rifles rest on the muddy floor,
You will not need them any more.
Danger’s past;
Now at last,
Go to sleep!”
 
There is on earth no worthier grave
To hold the bodies of the brave
Than this place of pain and pride
Where they nobly fought and nobly died.
Never fear but in the skies
Saints and angels stand
Smiling with their holy eyes
    On this new-come band.
St. Michael’s sword darts through the air
And touches the aureole on his hair
As he sees them stand saluting there,
    His stalwart sons;
And Patrick, Brigid, Columkill
Rejoice that in veins of warriors still
    The Gael’s blood runs.
And up to Heaven’s doorway floats,
    From the wood called Rouge Bouquet,
A delicate cloud of buglenotes
    That softly say:
“Farewell!
Farewell!
Comrades true, born anew, peace to you!
Your souls shall be where the heroes are
And your memory shine like the morning-star.
Brave and dear,
Shield us here.
Farewell!”
 

Reflective Questions: “The Rouge Bouquet”
 
  1. Why is the wooded area be called, the “red bouquet?”
  2. What is the description of the grave-site in “The Rouge Bouquet?”
  3. What is meant by “covered with earth ten meters thick?”
  4. What is the significance of the “three volleys ring?”
  5. How are the dead instructed to rest?
  6. Why is it that the “rouge bouquet” is a worthy site?
  7. What message is given to the warriors about the next step of their service?
  8. What is meant by imagine of St. Michael?
  9. Who are Patrick, Brigid and Columkill and what is the significance of their being named in this poem?
  10. What is the end for the warriors in this poem?

 
“When the Sixty-ninth Comes Back”
 
The Sixty-ninth is on its way—France heard it long ago,
And the Germans know we’re coming, to give them blow for blow.
We’ve taken on the contract, and when the job is through
We’ll let them hear a Yankee cheer and an Irish ballad too.
 
The Harp that once through Tara’s Halls shall fill the air with song,
And the Shamrock be cheered as the port is neared by our triumphant throng.
With the Potsdam Palace on a truck and the Kaiser in a sack,
New York will be seen one Irish green when the Sixty-ninth comes hack.
 
We brought back from the Border our Flag—’twas never lost;
We left behind the land we love, the stormy sea we crossed.
We heard the cry of Belgium, and France the free and fair,
For where there’s work for fighting-men, the Sixty-ninth is there.
 
The Harp that once through Tara’s Halls shall fill the air with song,
And the Shamrock be cheered as the port is neared by our triumphant throng.
With the Potsdam Palace on a truck and the Kaiser in a sack,
New York will be seen one Irish green when the Sixty-ninth comes back.
 
The men who fought at Marye’s Heights will aid us from the sky,
They showed the world at Fredericksburg how Irish soldiers die.
At Blackburn Ford they think of us, Atlanta and Bull Run;
There are many silver rings on the old flagstaff but there’s room for another one.
 
The Harp that once through Tara’s Halls shall fill the air with song,
And the Shamrock be cheered as the port is neared by our triumphant throng.
With the Potsdam Palace on a truck and the Kaiser in a sack,
New York will be seen one Irish green when the Sixty-ninth comes back.
 
God rest our valiant leaders dead, whom we cannot forget;
They’ll see the Fighting Irish are the Fighting Irish yet.
While Ryan, Roe, and Corcoran on History’s pages shine,
A wreath of laurel and shamrock waits the head of Colonel Hine.
 
The Harp that once through Tara’s Halls shall fill the air with song,
And the Shamrock be cheered as the port is neared by our triumphant throng.
With the Potsdam Palace on a truck and the Kaiser in a sack,
New York will be seen one Irish green when the Sixty-ninth comes back.
 

Reflective Questions: “When the Sixty-ninth Comes Back”
 
Tara’s Hall is the ancestral home of ancient Irish Kings.  Potsdam Palace is in Germany. 
  1. What is the predominate ethnic make-up of the 69th? What Irish references are made in the poem?
  2. What threat is being made to the Germans in this poem?
  3. What significance are the place names in this poem: Marye’s Heights, Fredericksburg, Atlanta, Bull Run, and Blackburn Ford?
  4. What belief does Kilmer have in the 69th?