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Rouge Bouquet

Rouge Bouquet
by Joyce Kilmer – 1886-1918

Joyce Kilmer 165th Infantry Regiment (69th NY)

“Rouge Bouquet” or “The Wood Called Rouge Bouquet” is a lyric poem written in 1918 by American poet, essayist, critic and soldier Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918). The poem commemorates during an intense German artillery bombardment of an American trench position in the Rouge Bouquet wood near the French village of Baccarat on 7 March 1918 that resulted in the loss of 19 American soldiers with the 165th Infantry Regiment (better known as New York National Guard’s, “The Fighting 69th Regiment”), of 42nd Rainbow Division.

Kilmer was a corporal at that time in the 165th Infantry Regiment, and he composed the poem immediately after the attack. It was first read a few days later as a eulogy by Chaplain Francis Duffy during “the funeral service held at the collapsed dugout, the tomb of the regiment’s first men slain in battle”. The poem was first published in the 16 August 1918 issue of “Stars and Stripes”, two weeks after Kilmer’s death in battle on 30 July 1918 during the Second Battle of the Marne. The poem was read over Kilmer’s own grave when he was interred in France. To this day, it is a tradition of the Fighting 69th to read the poem at memorial services for fallen members of the regiment.

Memorial service held by soldiers of the “Fighting 69th” for 19 men lost in the 7 March 1918 Rouge Bouquet bombardment

Note that at several points the words fall into the rhythm of “Taps”.


Rouge Bouquet

In a woods they call the Rouge Bouquet
There is a new-made grave today,
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
Or taste of the summer time;
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 sought 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 bugle notes
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!”

The 69th New York Infantry Regiment is an infantry regiment of the United States Army. It is from New York City, part of the New York Army National Guard. It is known as the “Fighting Sixty-Ninth”, a name said to have been given by Robert E. Lee during the Civil War. An Irish heritage unit, as the citation from poet Joyce Kilmer, illustrates, this unit is also nicknamed the “Fighting Irish”, immortalized in Joyce Kilmer’s poem When the 69th Comes Home. Between 1917 and 1992 it was also designated as the 165th Infantry Regiment. It is headquartered at the 69th Regiment Armory in Manhattan.

Here is a scene from the movie The Fighting 69th on how they got their name.


Below is the Hollywood version of the events which inspired the poem “Rouge Bouquet” by Joyce Kilmer, a member of the 69th (NY known in WWI as the 165th Regiment, 42nd “Rainbow” Division). On March 7, 1918, a German artillery shell struck a dugout shelter and buried 22 members of E Company. Two men were rescued, five bodies were recovered during the rescue work, but fifteen remained entombed, including 1st Lt. John Norman. The film and this clip is somewhat fictionalized with additional characters such as James Cagney’s “composite” character of Jerry Plunkett and the additional drama with someone’s brother trapped in the dugout, but the film’s spirit remains true to the events of that day. After additional rescue efforts failed, Sgt. Joyce Kilmer wrote his poem “Rouge Bouquet”, and it was first read 10 days later on St. Patrick’s Day (the “Fighting 69th” was a mostly Irish National Guard unit from New York) by regimental chaplain Father Francis Duffy.

Kilmer was killed by a German sniper on July 30th, 1918. His is buried overseas at the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in Fere-en-Tardenois, France.

“Rouge Bouquet” by Emmett Watson.

Taps is sounded every day at National WWI Memorial in Washington DC. The Memorial is located at Pennsylvania Ave and 14th St N.W. Information can be found BY CLICKING HERE

2 Comments

  1. Don Roeder Don Roeder March 17, 2022

    I remember seeing that movie several years ago. My father served in WWI in France in 1918. He was not involved in active combat, but spent about a year in Brest. I don’t believe that I ever read Kilmer’s poem before. How tragic it is that Kilmer himself died not long afterwards. I think that many Americans have no idea of the extent of the suffering which those who served on both sides in that conflict endured.

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