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Poems

Battle-Pieces and Others Aspects of War

The Martyr

Good Friday was the day
Of the prodigy and crime,
When they killed him in his pity,
When they killed him in his prime
Of clemency and calm-
When with yearning he was filled
To redeem the evil-willed,
And, though conqueror, be kind;
But they killed him in his kindness,
In their madness and their blindness,
And they killed him from behind.

There is sobbing of the strong,
And a pall upon the land;
But the People in their weeping
Bare the iron hand:
Beware the People weeping
When they bare the iron hand.

He lieth in his blood-
The father in his face;
They have killed him, the Forgiver-
The Avenger takes his place,*
The Avenger wisely stern,
Who in righteousness shall do
What the heavens call him to,
And the parricides remand;
For they killed him in his kindness,
In their madness and their blindness,
And his blood is on their hand.

 

Title: The martyr referred to here is Abraham Lincoln, who was assassinated on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, by the Confederate sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth.

*(Melvilles's note): At this period of excitement the thought was by some passionately welcomed that the Presidential successor had been raised up to heaven to wreak vengeance on the South. The idea originated in the remembrance that Andrew Johnson by birth belonged to that class of Southern whites who never cherished loved of the dominant: that he was a citizen of Tennessee, where the contest at times and in places had been close and bitter as a Middle-Age feud; that himself and family had been hardly treated by the Secessionists. But the expectations built hereon (if, indeed, ever soberly entertained), happily for the country, have not been verified. Likely the feeling which would have held the entire South chargeable with the crime of one exceptional assassin, this too had died away with the natural excitement of the hour.