The March into Virginia Ending in the First Manassas (July, 1861)

By Herman Melville 1819–1891 Herman Melville
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 lend—
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,
No picnic party in the May,
Ever went less loth than they
      Into that leafy neighborhood.
In Bacchic glee they file toward Fate,
Moloch’s uninitiate;
Expectancy, and glad surmise
Of battle’s unknown mysteries.

All they feel is this: ’tis glory,
A rapture sharp, though transitory,
Yet lasting in belaureled story.
So they gayly go to fight,
Chatting left and laughing right.

But some who this blithe mood present,
      As on in lightsome files they fare,
Shall die experienced ere three days be spent—
      Perish, enlightened by the vollied glare;
Or shame survive, and, like to adamant,
      Thy after shock, Manassas, share.

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Poet Herman Melville 1819–1891

Subjects War & Conflict, Heroes & Patriotism, History & Politics, Social Commentaries

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

 Herman  Melville

Biography

Although chiefly known for his magisterial novel Moby-Dick and for other prose works, Herman Melville was also a fascinating poet who turned to the art after his serious fiction failed to find appreciative readers. His eccentric verse displays the complexity of thought and verbal richness of his novels, which has led some critics to rank him just below Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson among 19th-century American poets.

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SUBJECT War & Conflict, Heroes & Patriotism, History & Politics, Social Commentaries

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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