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Short poem

Herman Melville (1819-1891)

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

              1Did all the lets and bars appear
              2    To every just or larger end,
              3Whence should come the trust and cheer?
              4    Youth must its ignorant impulse lend --
              5Age finds place in the rear.
              6    All wars are boyish, and are fought by boys,
              7The champions and enthusiasts of the state:
              8    Turbid ardors and vain joys
              9        Not barrenly abate --
            10Stimulants to the power mature,
            11    Preparatives of fate.

            12Who here forecasteth the event?
            13What heart but spurns at precedent
            14And warnings of the wise,
            15Contemned foreclosures of surprise?
            16The banners play, the bugles call,
            17The air is blue and prodigal.
            18    No berrying party, pleasure-wooed,
            19No picnic party in the May,
            20Ever went less loth than they
            21    Into that leafy neighborhood.
            22In Bacchic glee they file toward Fate,
            23Moloch's uninitiate;
            24Expectancy, and glad surmise
            25Of battle's unknown mysteries.

            26All they feel is this: 'tis glory,
            27A rapture sharp, though transitory,
            28Yet lasting in belaureled story.
            29So they gayly go to fight,
            30Chatting left and laughing right.

            31But some who this blithe mood present,
            32    As on in lightsome files they fare,
            33Shall die experienced ere three days be spent --
            34    Perish, enlightened by the vollied glare;
            35Or shame survive, and, like to adamant,
            36    Thy after shock, Manassas, share.


1] On July 21, 1861, a Union Army of 35,00 soldiers under General Irvin McDowell advanced from Washington against Confederate forces, 22,000 men led by General Pierre G.T. Beauregard, and met at Manassas Junction, Virginia, on the banks of a stream called Bull Run. With nearly 3000 dead, one thousand more than the Conferate army, the Union army retreated in disorder, defeated in the first battle of the Civil War. lets: obstacles.

22] Bacchic: drunken, after the Roman god of wine.

23] Moloch: Old Testament heathen god to whom children were sacrificed (Leviticus 18.21).

35] adamant: the hardest of stones.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Collected Poems of Herman Melville, ed. Howard P. Vincent (Chicago: Packard, 1947): 10-11. PS 2382 V5 Robarts Library
First publication date: 1866
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: 2003
Recent editing: 1:2003/6/2

Composition date: 1861
Rhyme: ababacdcdad ...

Other poems by Herman Melville