At the Grave of Walker

Joaquin Miller

I lay this crude wreath on his dust,
Inwove with sad, sweet memories
Recalled here by these colder seas.
I leave the wild bird with his trust,
To sing and say him nothing wrong;
I wake no rivalry of song.

He lies low in the levelled sand,
Unsheltered from the tropic sun,
And now of all he knew not one
Will speak him fair in that far land.
Perhaps ’t was this that made me seek,
Disguised, his grave one winter-tide;
A weakness for the weaker side,
A siding with the helpless weak.

A palm not far held out a hand,       
Hard by a long green bamboo swung,
And bent like some great bow unstrung,
And quivered like a willow wand;
Beneath a broad banana’s leaf,
Perched on its fruits that crooked hang,
A bird in rainbow splendor sang
A low sad song of tempered grief.

No sod, no sign, no cross nor stone,
But at his side a cactus green
Upheld its lances long and keen;
It stood in hot red sands alone,
Flat-palmed and fierce with lifted spears;
One bloom of crimson crowned its head,
A drop of blood, so bright, so red,
Yet redolent as roses’ tears.
In my left hand I held a shell,
All rosy lipped and pearly red;
I laid it by his lowly bed,
For he did love so passing well
The grand songs of the solemn sea.
O shell! sing well, wild, with a will,
When storms blow loud and birds be still,
The wildest sea-song known to thee!
I said some things, with folded hands,
Soft whispered in the dim sea-sound,
And eyes held humbly to the ground,
And frail knees sunken in the sands.
He had done more than this for me,
And yet I could not well do more:
I turned me down the olive shore,
And set a sad face to the sea.

[Extract from With Walker in Nicaragua]

William Walker was a filibuster who led several miitary expeditions into Central America. He actually conquered and became president of Nicaragua in 1856, but was ousted the next year by a coalition of Central American states. He was executed by firing squad in Honduras in 1860.

Miller knew Walker, and wrote the poem in anger after reading a mocking obituary of Walker in a British newspaper, which claimed his grave was marked with a board which read:

"Here lies buried W. W. Who never more will trouble you, trouble you."

Poetry Atlas has other poems about Nicaragua.

And poems about Honduras.