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Herman Melville - Chattanooga

(November, 1863)

A kindling impulse seized the host
Inspired by heaven's elastic air;
Their hearts outran their General's plan,
Though Grant commanded there - 
Grant, who without reserve can dare;
And, "Well, go on and do your will,"
He said, and measured the mountain then:
So master-riders fling the rein - 
But you must know your men.

On yester-morn in grayish mist,
Armies like ghosts on hills had fought,
And rolled from the cloud their thunders loud
The Cumberlands far had caught:
Today the sunlit steeps are sought.
Grant stood on cliffs whence all was plain,
And smoked as one who feels no cares;
But mastered nervousness intense,
Alone such calmness wears.

The summit-cannon plunge their flame
Sheer down the primal wall,
But up and up each linking troop
In stretching festoons crawl - 
Nor fire a shot. Such men appal
The foe, though brave. He, from the brink,
Looks far along the breadth of slope,
And sees two miles of dark dots creep,
And knows they mean the cope.

He sees them creep. Yet here and there
Half hid 'mid leafless groves they go;
As men who ply through traceries high
Of turreted marbles show - 
So dwindle these to eyes below.
But fronting shot and flanking shell
Sliver and rive the inwoven ways;
High tops of oaks and high hearts fall,
But never the climbing stays.

Near and more near; till now the flags
Run like a catching flame;
And one flares highest, to peril nighest - 
He means to make a name:
Salvos! they give him his fame.
The staff is caught, and next the rush,
And then the leap where death has led;
Flag answered flag along the crest,
And swarms of rebels fled.

But some who gained the envied Alp,
And -eager, ardent, earnest there - 
Dropped into Death's wide-open arms,
Quelled on the wing like eagles struck in air - 
Forever they slumber young and fair,
The smile upon them as they died;
Their end attained, that end a height:
Life was to these a dream fulfilled,
And death a starry night.

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Chattanooga - Comments and Information

Poet: Herman Melville
Poem: Chattanooga
Poem of the Day: Sep 12 2000
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