36 - At the Cannon's Mouth*
At the Cannon's Mouth.
Destruction of the Ram AlbemarleIn the summer of 1864, the ironclad steamship ram CSS Albemarle dominated Roanoke River and Albemarle Sound. That fall, Lieutenant William Cushing devised and executed a plan to sink the ship. He fitted a steam launch with a single, manually-detonated torpedo, projecting from the craft's bow, with the idea of ramming the ironclad and blowing a hole in it below the waterline. The commando-style night mission succeeded: Cushing pulled the lanyard triggering the device, and the explosion sank the Albemarle, destroyed the launch, and threw Cushing and crew into the river. Cushing managed to escape and became a national hero; two of his crew drowned, one other escaped, and eleven were captured. by the Torpedo-launch.
Palely intent, he urged his keel
Full on the guns, and touched the spring;
Himself involved in the bolt he drove
Timed with the armed hull's shot that stove
His shallopAny of several kinds of light watercraft, including gunboats.—die or do!
Into the flood his life he threw,
Yet lives—unscathed—a breathing thing
To marvel at.
He has his fame;
But that mad dash at death, how name?
Had Earth no charm to stayIn his bound sheets of Battle-Pieces (Copy C), Melville used pencil to add a caret after "stay" and inscribed "in" and a vertical line in the right margin to give "stay in". In the same revision event, he then deleted "From" in the next line. The revised question would then be "Had Earth no charm to stay in the Boy / [T]he martyr-passion?" the BoyCushing was 21 at the time.
From the martyr-passion? Could he dare
Disdain the Paradise of opening joy
Which beckons the fresh heart every where?
Life has more lures than any girl
For youth and strength; puts forth a share
Of beauty, hinting of yet rarer store;
And ever with unfathomable eyes,
Which bafflingly entice,
Still strangely does Adonis draw.
And life once over, who shall tell the rest?
Life is, of all we know, God's best.
What imps these eagles then, that they
Fling disrespect on life by that proud way
In which they soar above our lower clay.
Pretense of wonderment and doubt unblest:
In Cushing's eager deed was shown
A spirit which brave poets own—
That scorn of life which earns life's crown;
Earns, but not always wins; but he—
The star ascended in his nativity.