Battle Pieces & Aspects of the War – 3

Battle Pieces & Aspects of the War – 3

The Conflict of Convictions / Herman Melville / 1860-1
[see end of poem for Melville’s note]

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;
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 æons 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,
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—
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,
And prosper 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 one.
Senior 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 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 and strain,
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.

Footnote attached to the title:
[1] The gloomy lull of the early part of the winter of 1860-1, seeming big with final disaster to our institutions, affected some minds that believed them to constitute one of the great hopes of mankind, much as the eclipse which came over the promise of the first French Revolution affected kindred natures, throwing them for the time into doubt and misgivings universal.


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