Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War

Herman Melville
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Title: Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War
Author: Herman Melville
Release Date: May 19, 2004 [EBook #12384]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
WAR ***
Produced by David Maddock
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
without reference to collective 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
amplitude, corresponding 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 as
are 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.]
The Portent.
Hanging from the beam,
Slowly swaying (such the law),
Gaunt the
shadow on your green,
The cut is on the crown
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),
The meteor of the the war.
When ocean-clouds over inland hills
Sweep storming in late autumn
And horror the sodden valley fills,
And the spire falls
crashing in the town,
I muse upon my country's ills--
The tempest
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
A child may read the moody brow
Of yon black mountain
With shouts the torrents down the gorges go,
And storms are
formed behind the storm we feel:
The hemlock shakes in the rafter,
the oak in the driving keel.

The Conflict of Convictions.[1]
On starry heights
A bugle wails the long recall;
Derision stirs the
deep abyss,
Heaven's ominous 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 still;
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 æons to come
Congeal beneath the
The terrors of truth and dart of death
To faith alike are vain;

Though comets, gone a thousand years,
Return again,
Patient she stands--she can no more--
And waits, nor
heeds she waxes hoar.
(_At a stony gate,
A statue of stone,
Weed overgrown--
'twill wait!_)
But God his former mind retains,
Confirms his old decree;
generations are inured to pains,
And strong Necessity
Surges, and
heaps Time's strand with wrecks.
The People spread like a weedy
The thing they will they bring to pass,
And prosper to the
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,

mark a twinkling in the tent
Of Michael the warrior one.
wisdom suits not now,
The light is on the youthful brow.
(_Ay, in caves the miner see:
His forehead bears a blinking light;

Darkness so he feebly braves--
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
The Ancient of Days forever is young,
Forever the scheme of Nature
I know a wind in purpose strong--
It spins _against_ the
way it drives.
What if the gulfs their slimed foundations bare?
deep must the stones be hurled
Whereon the throes of ages rear
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,
There's a grave!_)
Power unanointed may come--
Dominion (unsought by the
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