47 - The Released Rebel Prisoner*
The Released Rebel Prisoner.
Armies he's seen—the herds of war,
But never such swarms of men
As now in the Nineveh of the North—
How mad the Rebellion then!
And yet but dimly he divines
The depth of that deceit,
And superstition of vast pride
Humbled to such defeat.
Seductive shone the Chiefs in arms—
His steel the nearest magnet drew;
Wreathed with its kind, the Gulf-weed drives—
'Tis Nature's wrong they rue.
His face is hidden in his beard,
But his heart peers out at eye—
And such a heart! like a mountain-pool
Where no man passes by.
He thinks of Hill—a brave soul gone;
And Ashby dead in pale disdain;
And Stuart with the Rupert-plume,
Whose blue eye never shall laugh again.
He hears the drum; he sees our boys
From his wasted fields return;
Ladies feast them on strawberries,
And even to kiss them yearn.
He marks them bronzed, in soldier-trim,
The rifle proudly borne;
They bear it for an heir-loom home,
Home, home—his heart is full of it;
But home he never shall see,
Even should he stand upon the spot:
'Tis gone!—where his brothers be.
The cypress-moss from tree to tree
Hangs in his Southern land;
As weirdIn print, "weird" appears as "wierd," and the editors of the NN Published Poems retain it as "an acceptable nineteenth-century variant." However, according the the OED, "wierd" is one of most misspelled words in English, and given Melville's more familiar use of "weird" in "The Portent"—"Weird John Brown"—MEL treats "wierd" as a typo that might suggest to readers an unwarranted interpretation and emends to "weird." Confirming Melville's intended meaning of "weird" as uncanny and portentous is Melville's possible revision of the word. In his bound sheets of Battle-Pieces (Copy C), he underlined "wierd" in pencil and inscribed a vertical slash in the left margin, followed by the word "drear," a poetic form of "dreary," meaning "dire, melancholy" (though not as portentous as "weird"). See also a similar tentative revision to "dreary" in "The Scout toward Aldie."
, from thought to thought of his
Run memories hand in hand.
And so he lingers—lingers on
In the City of the Foe—
His cousins and his countrymen
Who see him listless go.
[Melville's] Note r, page 150.
For a month or two after the completion of peace, some thousands of released captives from the military prisons of the North, natives of all parts of the South, passed through the city of New York, sometimes waiting farther transportation for days, during which interval they wandered penniless about the streets, or lay in their worn and patched gray uniforms under the trees of the Battery, near the barracks where they were lodged and fed. They were transported and provided for at the charge of government.