Sunday, January 26, 1936

Book-Page Editorial

Said Files On Parade--
Memories Of A Parlor


Site ed. note: This unique Cash article poetically referencing directly Cash's own childhood memories at his grandmother's house was written in elegiac honor to Rudyard Kipling. Later, in November, 1940, Cash would begin his well-known and Pulitzer-nominated "Sea Fight" article with Kipling's lines from "The Song of the Dead". The poet in Cash always came forth when examining the memory of the honorable dead, the heroic and the poets. His article on Thomas Wolfe's last days is another prime example of this seldom-seen but ever-present part of his body of thought. (For a Kipling-esque poem written by Cash while a Wake Forest student, see "The Buddha", also accessible from the homepage.)


I had almost forgotten the old man who died in Sussex the other day. There was his name in the papers now and then, to be sure, and once in a while a verse which I never read. But for me he had ceased altogether to exist--or almost. And yet--there was a time--times--

I was nine years old that summer, I remember. There was my grandmother's tall old house in the Piedmont country of North Carolina. There was the yellow road in front, the long yellow road running away to the blue hills asleep on the horizon. There was the orchard, the wide sweet orchard on the other side of that road, winey with the smell of the slow-rotting apples. And behind the house were barns and the gabble of ducks and the honking of guinea-fowl--and red fields and the blue woods shimmering in the blaze of sun and haze . . .

Poet in the Parlor

And there was the parlor--cool and dark after the out-of-doors, with family portraits (crayon style) looking on from the walls. And on the table was a book, a book bound in white leather, with many wreathes and rods and curlicues in gilt and a title worked out with great elaboration.

I am quite sure that I did not know what a barracks-room was--nor a ballad. But there were verses in that book, and with the lines a mood ". . . said Files on parade, for they're hanging Danny Deever in the morning". Well, what was it Files said? I don't know, and I've never known in all the years between. All I know is the vision sudden springing before a boy's eyes of red-coated soldiers, the solemn rolling of drums, the sense of splendid things and far places, a soaring flash of the resistless roll of power--a mood and dream altogether, or nearly altogether, gone from my blood and brain now.

There were other passages afterward. Years in the teens when I read the man, or rather parts of the man, over and over, many days when I walked about with the great swing of "By--the--old--Moul--Mein--Pagoda--, looking--eastward--to the sea--there's a Burma girl a--settin' "--pounding always through my mind. But when I think of the old man, I think always first and foremost of that beginning, hear again those cryptic words, half understood at best, "said Files on parade, for they're hanging Danny Deever."

They are saying of the dead old man that he will always be pre-eminently a poet for youth, for hot, wild, generous, impulsive youth. But I wonder if it is not more true still that he will be above all a poet of the child--the man-child. For surely only a child in this world in which disillusionment comes always earlier can have the great openness of expectancy, the wide belief in all the future, the beautiful simplicity, to respond fully and rightly to his singing of elementary power--of the dawn uprearing thunderously "out of China cross the bay."

Site ed. note: If you 'aven't the time to look it up, "Danny Deever", goes this way:

"What are the bugles blowin' for?" said Files-on-Parade.
"To turn you out, to turn you out," the Colour-Sergeant said.
"What makes you look so white, so white?" said Files-on-Parade.
"I'm dreadin' what I've got to watch," the Colour-Sergeant said.
For they're hangin' Danny Deever, you can hear the Dead March play,
The regiment's in 'ollow square--they're hangin' him today;
They've taken of his buttons off an' cut his stripes away,
An' they're hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin'.

"What makes the rear-rank breathe so 'ard?" said Files-on-Parade.
"It's bitter cold, it's bitter cold," the Colour-Sergeant said.
"What makes that front-rank man fall down?" said Files-on-Parade.
"A touch o' sun, a touch o' sun," the Colour-Sergeant said.
They are hangin' Danny Deever, they are marchin' of 'im round,
They 'ave 'alted Danny Deever by 'is coffin on the ground;
An' 'e'll swing in 'arf a minute for a sneakin' shootin' hound--
O they're hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin'!

"'Is cot was right--'and cot to mine," said Files-on-Parade.
"'E's sleepin' out an' far tonight," the Colour-Sergeant said.
"I've drunk 'is beer a score o' times," said Files-on-Parade.
"E's drinkin' bitter beer alone," the Colour-Sergeant said.
They are hangin' Danny Deever, you must mark 'im to 'is place,
For 'e shot a comrade sleepin'--you must look 'im in the face;
Nine 'undred of 'is county an' the Regiment's disgrace,
While they're hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin'.

"What's that so black agin the sun?" said Files-on-Parade.
"It's Danny fightin' 'ard for life," the Colour-Sergeant said.
"What's that that whimpers over'ead?" said Files-on-Parade.
"It's Danny's soul that's passin' now," the Colour-Sergeant said.
For they're done with Danny Deever, you can 'ear the quickstep play,
The Regiment's in column, an' they're marchin' us away;
Ho! the young recruits are shakin', an' they'll want their beer today,
After hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin'!

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