Herman Melville

(1 August 1819 – 28 September 1891 / New York City, New York)

On The Slain Collegians


Youth is the time when hearts are large,
And stirring wars
Appeal to the spirit which appeals in turn
To the blade it draws.
If woman incite, and duty show
(Though made the mask of Cain),
Or whether it be Truth's sacred cause,
Who can aloof remain
That shares youth's ardor, uncooled by the
snow
Of wisdom or sordid gain?

The liberal arts and nurture sweet
Which give his gentleness to man--
Train him to honor, lend him grace
Through bright examples meet--
That culture which makes never wan
With underminings deep, but holds
The surface still, its fitting place,
And so gives sunniness to the face
And bravery to the heart; what troops
Of generous boys in happiness thus bred--
Saturnians through life's Tempe led,
Went from the North and came from the
South,
With golden mottoes in the mouth,
To lie down midway on a bloody bed.

Woe for the homes of the North,
And woe for the seats of the South:
All who felt life's spring in prime,
And were swept by the wind of their place and
time--
All lavish hearts, on whichever side,
Of birth urbane or courage high,
Armed them for the stirring wars--
Armed them--some to die.
Apollo-like in pride.
Each would slay his Python--caught
The maxims in his temple taught--
Aflame with sympathies whose blaze
Perforce enwrapped him--social laws,
Friendship and kin, and by-gone days--
Vows, kisses--every heart unmoors,
And launches into the seas of wars.
What could they else--North or South?
Each went forth with blessings given
By priests and mothers in the name of Heaven;
And honor in both was chief.
Warred one for Right, and one for Wrong?
So be it; but they both were young--
Each grape to his cluster clung,
All their elegies are sung.
The anguish of maternal hearts
Must search for balm divine;
But well the striplings bore their fated parts
(The heavens all parts assign)--
Never felt life's care or cloy.
Each bloomed and died an unabated Boy;
Nor dreamed what death was--thought it mere
Sliding into some vernal sphere.
They knew the joy, but leaped the grief,
Like plants that flower ere comes the leaf--
Which storms lay low in kindly doom,
And kill them in their flush of bloom.

Submitted: Saturday, April 17, 2010

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