The Martyr

By Herman Melville 1819–1891 Herman Melville

Indicative of the passion of the people
on the 15th of April, 1865

Good Friday was the day
    Of the prodigy and crime,
When they killed him in his pity,
    When they killed him in his prime
Of clemency and calm—
         When with yearning he was filled
         To redeem the evil-willed,
And, though conqueror, be kind;
    But they killed him in his kindness,
    In their madness and their blindness,
And they killed him from behind.
 
              There is sobbing of the strong,
                   And a pall upon the land;
              But the People in their weeping
                                    Bare the iron hand:
              Beware the People weeping
                   When they bare the iron hand.
 
He lieth in his blood—
    The father in his face;
They have killed him, the Forgiver—
    The Avenger takes his place,
The Avenger wisely stern,
         Who in righteousness shall do
         What heavens call him to,
And the parricides remand;
    For they killed him in his kindness,
    In their madness and their blindness.
And his blood is on their hand.
 
                    There is sobbing of the strong,
                        And a pall upon the land;
                    But the People in their weeping
                                    Bare the iron hand:
                    Beware the People weeping
                        When they bare the iron hand.

Source: “Words for the Hour”: A New Anthology of American Civil War Poetry, edited by Faith Barrett and Cristanne Miller (University of Massachusetts Press, 2005)

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Poet Herman Melville 1819–1891

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

Poetic Terms Elegy, 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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Poem Categorization

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

Poetic Terms Elegy, Rhymed Stanza

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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