O Pride of the days in prime of the months
Now trebled in great renown,
When before the ark of our holy cause
Fell Dagon down-
Dagon foredoomed, who, armed and targed,
Never his impious heart enlarged
Beyond that hour; God walled his power,
And there the last invader charged.

He charged, and in that charge condensed
His all of hate and all of fire;
He sought to blast us in his scorn,
And wither us in his ire.
Before him went the shriek of shells-
Aerial screamings, taunts and yells;
Then the three waves in flashed advance
Surged, but were met, and back they set:
Pride was repelled by sterner pride,
And Right is a strong-hold yet.

Before our lines it seemed a beach
Which wild September gales have strown
With havoc on wreck, and dashed therewith
Pale crews unknown-
Men, arms, and steeds. The evening sun
Died on the face of each lifeless one,
And died along the winding marge of fight
And searching-parties lone.

Sloped on the hill the mounds were green,
Our centre held that place of graves,
And some still hold it in their swoon,
And over these a glory waves.
The warrior-monument, crashed in fight,
Shall soar transfigured in loftier light,
A meaning ampler bear;
Soldier and priest with hymn and prayer
Have laid the stone, and every bone
Shall rest in honor there.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Herman Melville's poem Gettysburg

1 Comment

  1. Clinton Tillman says:

    For writers and poets of Herman Melville’s era, the Civil War was a momentous event, and they often wrote about it. Walt Whitman’s poem, Oh Captain, My Captain, written as a response to the death of Lincoln, is only one of many examples.
    In the poem Gettysburg, Melville comments on Pickett’s charge at the Battle of Gettysburg, which many say was the turning point in the war, and signaled the end for the Confederacy. In the opening lines, Melville refers to Dagon, who was a ancient god of the Philistines. His statue, according to a story in the Bible, was mysteriously prostrated before the Ark, which held the Ten Commandments. Since he was a Pagan god, Melville uses Dagon to represent the South, and the forces of Christianity and God, to represent the North.
    A reference to an ancient pagan god may seem obscure to us, but for Melville’s generation the Bible was a well read book, and the war was seen by many as a titanic struggle of biblical scope. Listen to the words of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, with it’s reference to God’s “terrible swift sword”, and you will see what I mean. And even today we have Raiders of the Lost Ark!
    Melville than says how God “walled” Dagon’s power. And when the charge fails at last Melville says, “And Right is a strong-hold yet.” This poem, like Melville’s most famous novel, Moby Dick, is an
    “allegory”; a story with a hidden meaning or moral lesson. A religous undertone is common to much of Melville’s work, and the work many other writers of early Protestant New England. Another example is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Scarlett Letter”. Melville is here using the solely historical event of Gettysburg to comment on universal biblical concepts like the struggle between Good and Evil. Awareness of this strong religous influence can help to make poems like this more understandable.

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