Lorena

Sentimental ballads were the most popular musical form in mid-nineteenth century America, and during the war these “heart songs” flourished. At the siege of Atlanta each evening, a Georgia sharpshooter brought about a momentary cease-fire by playing on his cornet such favorites as Foster’s “Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming” and Balfe’s “I Dreamt that I Dwelt in Marble Halls.” Almost certainly he played Webster”s “Lorena” as well. Most Confederates agreed with one Dr. Rufus, who claimed that this song was “supreme as to melody and also for beauty of versification.” With Bishop’s “Home, Sweet Home” and Lover’s “The Girl I Left Behind Me,” “Lorena” was probably sung and played more often than any other song during the war.

Its composer, the Reverend H.D.L. Webster, was a Universalist preacher from Massachusetts whose courtship of a young woman named Ella ended unhappily: his sweetheart chose to marry a lawyer who later became Chief Justice in Ohio rather than suffer life’s hardships with an itinerant preacher. To fit the melody written by his friend, J. P. Webster, Reverend Webster combined “Ella” and “Lenore,” from Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem, “The Raven,” and published the song in Chicago in 1857. Its tone, rich with both longing and acceptance, stirs the spirits of noble aspiration and passionate attachment, for it was not Lorena who “broke / The tie which linked my soul with thee” but “A duty, stern and pressing.” For soldiers in camps and maidens waiting at home, “Lorena” catches perfectly the mood of that otherwise inexplicable romantic idealism which lies at the heart of the Civil War.


Lorena

The years creep slowly by, Lorena,
The snow is on the grass again;
The sun’s low down the sky, Lorena,
The frost gleams where the flow’rs have been.
But the heart throbs on as warmly now,
As when the summer days were nigh;
Oh! The sun can never dip so low,
A-down affection’s cloudless sky.
The sun can never slip so low,
A-down affection’s cloudless sky.

A hundred months have passed, Lorena,
Since last I held that hand in mine,
And felt the pulse beat fast, Lorena,
Though mine beat faster far than thine.
A hundred months, ’twas flowery May,
When up the hilly slope we climbed,
To watch the dying of the day,
And hear the distant church bells chime.

We loved each other then, Lorena,
More than we ever dared to tell;
And what we might have been, Lorena,
Had but our loving prospered well –
But then, ’tis past, the years are gone,
I’ll not call up their shadowy forms;
I’ll say to them, “Lost years, sleep on!
Sleep on! nor heed life’s pelting storms.”

The story of that past, Lorena,
Alas! I care not to repeat,
The hopes that could not last, Lorena,
They lived, but only lived to cheat.
I would not cause e’en one regret
To rankle in your bosom now;
For “if we try, we may forget,”
Were words of thine long years ago.

Yes, these were words of thine, Lorena,
They burn within my memory yet;
They touched some tender chords, Lorena,
Which thrill and tremble with regret.
“Twas not thy woman’s heart that spoke;
Thy heart was always true to me;
A duty, stern and pressing, broke
The tie which linked my soul with thee.

It matters little now, Lorena,
The past is in the eternal past,
Our heads will soon lie low, Lorena,
Life’s tide is ebbing out so fast.
There is a future! O, thank God!
Of life this is so small a part!
‘Tis dust to dust beneath the sod!
But up there, up there, ’tis heart to heart.
‘Tis dust to dust beneath the sod!
But up there, up there, ’tis heart to heart.

FATEFUL LIGHTNING: The Civil War Songs of the Civil War Lorena