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Melville, Battle-Pieces


Herman Melville.  Battle-pieces and Aspects of the War.   New York:  Harper & Brothers, 1866.

"Shiloh:  A Requiem," from the first edition of Herman Melville's Battle-pieces, with the bookplate and signature (on flyleaf, dated 1870) of Philip Schuyler (1836-1906), a Brigadier-General in the Army of the Potomac and a New York clubman after the war.

A non-combatant like Whitman, Melville could not even rely on nursing experience to authenticate his writings about the war.  Instead, in a startling image contained in the short preface, Melville seeks to combine the impulses of the journalist (somebody who merely reports what he has seen, if only from a distance) with the a poet’s more traditional desire to make his lines sing:  “I seem, in most of these verses, to have placed my harp in the window, and noted the contrasting air which wayward winds have played upon the strings.”  His poem “Shiloh,” written to commemorate a battle in which more men had died than in all previous wars fought by citizens of the United States, shows Melville employing similar means (repetition, incantation) to eulogize the dead, though not in the same starkly intimate manner as Whitman.