As Toilsome I Wander'd Virginia's Woods

A new exhibit at the Virginia Museum for Fine Arts,

which takes its title from Whitman’s poem “As Toilsome I Wander’d Virginia’s Wood[s],” showcases one of VMFA’s seminal works—Eastman Johnson’s A Ride for Liberty—The Fugitive Slaves, March 2, 1862—in addition to 29 paintings, sculpture, and rare books from noted public and private collections across the country.

Here’s the poem, in case you’re interested:

As toilsome I wander’d Virginia’s woods,
To the music of rustling leaves kick’d by my feet (for ’twas autumn,)
I mark’d at the foot of a tree the grave of a soldier;
MOrtally wounded he and buried on the retreat, (easily all could I understand,)
The halt of a mid-day hour, when up ! no time to lose—yet this sign left,
On a tablet scrawl’d and nail’d on the tree by the grave,
Bold, cautious, true, and my loving comrade.

Long, long I muse, then on my way go wandering,
Many a changeful season to follow, and many a scene of life,
Yet at times through changeful season and scene, abrupt, alone, or in the crowded street,
Comes before me the unknown soldier’s grave, comes the inscription rude in Virginia’s woods,
Bold, cautious, true, and my loving comrade.

IMAGE: A Ride for Liberty—The Fugitive Slaves, March 2, 1862 by Eastman Johnson (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond; The Paul Mellon Collection)


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