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Poems

Battle-Pieces and Others Aspects of War

An Utilitirian View of the Monitor's Fight

Plain be the phrase, yet apt the verse,
More ponderous than nimble;
For since grimed War here laid aside
His Orient pomp, 'twould ill befit
Overmuch to ply
The Rhyme's barbaric cymbal.

Hail to victory without the gaud
Of glory; zeal that needs no fans
Of banners; plain mechanic power
Plied cogently in War now placed-
Where War belongs-
Among the trades and artisans.

Yet this was battle, and intense-
Beyond the strife of fleets heroic;
Deadlier, closer, calm 'mid storm;
No passion; all went on by crank,
Pivot, and screw,
And calculations of caloric.

Needless to dwell; the story's known.
The ringing of those plates on plates
Still ringeth round the world-
The clangor of that blacksmith's fray.
The anvil-din
Resounds this message from the Fates:

War shall yet be, and to the end;
But war-paint shows the streaks of weather;
War yet shall be, but warriors
Are now but operatives; War's made
Less grand than Peace,
And a singe runs through lace and feather.

 

Title: Refers to the battle, on May 9, 1862, between the Union ironclad, Monitor, and the Confederate ironclad, Merrimack, at Hampton Roads, Virginia. While the results were inconclusive, Melville sees the appearance of a new kind of fighting ship as a foreshadowing of what would become modern, mechanized warfare.