Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War.
By Herman Melville.
The Battle-Pieces in this volume
are dedicated to the memory of the
THREE HUNDRED THOUSAND who in the war for the maintenance
of the Union
fell devotedly under the flag of their fathers.
[With few exceptions, the Pieces in this volume
originated in an impulse
imparted by the fall of Richmond. They were composed
arrangement, but being brought together in review,
naturally fall into the order assumed.
The events and incidents of the conflict--making up a whole, in varied
with the geographical
area covered by the
war--from these but a few themes have been taken, such as for any cause
chanced to imprint themselves upon the mind.
The aspects which the strife
as a memory assumes are as manifold
the moods of involuntary
meditation--moods variable, and at times widely
at variance. Yielding instinctively, one after another, to feelings not
inspired from any one source exclusively, and unmindful, without
purposing to be, of consistency, I seem, in most of these verses, to
have but placed a harp in a window, and noted the contrasted airs which
wayward wilds have played upon the strings.]
Hanging from the beam,
Slowly swaying (such the law),
Gaunt the shadow on your green,
The cut is on the crown
(Lo, John Brown),
And the stabs shall heal no more.
Hidden in the cap
Is the anguish
none can draw;
So your future veils its face,
But the streaming beard is shown
(Weird John Brown),
of the the war.
When ocean-clouds over inland
Sweep storming in late autumn brown,
the sodden valley
And the spire falls crashing in the town,
I muse upon my country's ills--
bursting from the waste of Time
On the world's fairest hope linked with man's foulest crime.
Nature's dark side is heeded now--
(Ah! optimist-cheer disheartened flown)--
A child may read the moody brow
Of yon black mountain lone.
With shouts the torrents down the gorges go,
And storms are formed behind the storm we feel:
shakes in the rafter, the oak in the driving keel.
The Conflict of Convictions.
A bugle wails the long recall;
Derision stirs the deep abyss,
silence over all.
Return, return, O eager Hope,
And face man's latter fall.
Events, they make the dreamers quail;
Satan's old age is strong and hale,
A disciplined captain, gray in skill,
And Raphael a white enthusiast
Dashed aims, at which Christ's martyrs pale,
Shall Mammon's slaves fulfill?
(_Dismantle the fort,
Cut down the fleet--
Battle no more shall be!
While the fields for fight in aeons to come
Congeal beneath the sea._)
The terrors of truth and dart of death
To faith alike are vain;
Though comets, gone a thousand years,
Patient she stands--she can no more--
And waits, nor heeds she waxes hoar.
(_At a stony gate,
Long 'twill wait!_)
But God his former mind retains,
Confirms his old decree;
The generations are inured to pains,
And strong Necessity
Surges, and heaps Time's strand with wrecks.
The People spread like a weedy grass,
The thing they will they bring to pass,
to the apoplex.
The rout it herds around the heart,
The ghost is yielded in the gloom;
Kings wag their heads--Now save thyself
Who wouldst rebuild
the world in bloom.
And top of the ages' strike,
Verge where they called the world to come,
The last advance of life--
Ha ha, the rust on the Iron Dome!_)
Nay, but revere
the hid event;
In the cloud a sword is girded on,
I mark a twinkling in the tent
Of Michael the warrior
suits not now,
The light is on the youthful
(_Ay, in caves the miner see:
bears a blinking light;
Darkness so he feebly
A meagre wight!_)
But He who rules is old--is old;
Ah! faith is warm, but heaven with age is cold.
(_Ho ho, ho ho,
The cloistered doubt
Of olden times
Is blurted out!_)
The Ancient of Days forever is young,
Forever the scheme
of Nature thrives;
I know a wind in purpose strong--
It spins _against_ the way it drives.
What if the gulfs their slimed foundations bare?
So deep must the stones be hurled
Whereon the throes of ages rear
The final empire and the happier world.
(_The poor old Past,
The Future's slave,
She drudged through pain and crime
To bring about the blissful Prime,
Then--perished. There's a grave!_)
Power unanointed may come--
Dominion (unsought by the free)
And the Iron Dome,
Stronger for stress
Fling her huge shadow athwart the main;
But the Founders' dream shall flee.
Agee after age shall be
As age after age has been,
(From man's changeless heart their way they win);
And death be busy with all who strive--
Death, with silent negative.
YEA, AND NAY--
EACH HATH HIS SAY;
BUT GOD HE KEEPS THE MIDDLE WAY.
NONE WAS BY
WHEN HE SPREAD THE SKY;
WISDOM IS VAIN, AND PROPHESY.
Apathy and Enthusiasm.
O the clammy cold November,
And the winter white and dead,
And the terror
dumb with stupor,
And the sky a sheet of lead;
And events that came resounding
With the cry that _All was lost_,
Like the thunder-cracks of massy ice
Bursting one upon another
Through the horror
of the calm.
In the anguish
of the heart;
And the hollowness and dearth.
The appealings of the mother
To brother and to brother
Not in hatred
so to part--
And the fissure
in the hearth
Growing momently more wide.
Then the glances 'tween the Fates,
And the doubt on every side,
And the patience
In the stoniness that waits
The finality of doom.
So the winter died despairing,
And the weary weeks of Lent;
And the ice-bound rivers melted,
And the tomb of Faith was rent.
O, the rising of the People
Came with springing of the grass,
They rebounded from dejection
And Easter came to pass.
And the young were all elation
Hearing Sumter's cannon
And they thought how tame the Nation
In the age that went before.
And Michael seemed gigantical,
The Arch-fiend but a dwarf;
And at the towers of Erebus
Our striplings flung the scoff.
But the elders with foreboding
Mourned the days forever o'er,
And re called the forest proverb,
The Iroquois' old saw:
_Grief to every graybeard
When young Indians lead the war._
The March into Virginia,
Ending in the First Manassas.
Did all the lets and bars appear
To every just or larger end,
Whence should come the trust and cheer?
Youth must its ignorant impulse
Age finds place in the rear.
All wars are boyish, and are fought by boys,
The champions and enthusiasts of the state:
Turbid ardors and vain joys
Not barrenly abate--
Stimulants to the power mature,
Preparatives of fate.
Who here forecasteth the event?
What heart but spurns at precedent
And warnings of the wise,
Contemned foreclosures of surprise?
The banners play, the bugles call,
The air is blue and prodigal.
No berrying party, pleasure-wooed,
party in the May,
Ever went less loth than they
Into that leafy neighborhood.
In Bacchic glee they file toward Fate,
Expectancy, and glad surmise
Of battle's unknown mysteries.
All they feel is this: 'tis glory,
sharp, though transitory,
in belaureled story.
So they gayly go to fight,
Chatting left and laughing right.
But some who this blithe
As on in lightsome files they fare,
Shall die experienced
ere three days are spent--
Perish, enlightened by the vollied glare;
Or shame survive, and, like to adamant,
The throe of Second Manassas share.
Battle of Springfield, Missouri.
Some hearts there are of deeper sort,
Which yet for cause are trebly clad;
Known death they fly on:
This wizard-heart and heart-of-oak had Lyon.
"They are more than twenty thousand strong,
We less than five,
Too few with such a host to strive"
"Such counsel, fie on!
'Tis battle, or 'tis shame;" and firm stood Lyon.
"For help at need in van we wait--
Retreat or fight:
Retreat the foe would take for flight,