Download Link: Released on 17 October 2022
In this first episode of a two-part examination of Melville’s poetic response to the Civil War, the panel reads two poems from his first poetry collection, Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War (1866): ‘The Conflict of Convictions’ and ‘Gettysburg’.
It did my soul good to hear Melville’s words read so well and talked about so thoughtfully. Thank you! Having Melville down as you do, involves risk and possible loss of meaning I think when treating individual poems or “aspects” as more broadly representative. When he gets ready Melville can and will channel a Virginian, rebel prisoner, even Lee himself. Not in “Gettysburg” though. As our Soldiers’ National Cemetery Gettysburg by design and function must exclude the bones of rebels. The last stanza and Melville’s prose note bring us to the 4th of July ceremony in 1865, when they laid the cornerstone of the great Soldiers’ Monument.
In context “every bone” can only designate bones of Union soldiers. Only their bones may be so honored. To do otherwise would be treason. (Stonewall Jackson in another poem is remembered for heroic valor and decently mourned, but never wreathed since “his fame we outlaw.”)
There is deep pathos for sure in the denial of honor to the bones of boys fated to be rebels. Melville’s stark way of phrasing it “every bone” does invite contemplation of that pathos, on top of the pathos and irony previously invoked in recalling the battle and carnage over TOMBSTONES already there, on Cemetery Hill.
Which is to say with Melville in his prose Supplement to BATTLE-PIECES, “the glory of the war falls short of its pathos.”
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