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Poets of the Civil War Hardcover – Apr 7 2005
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Language:Chinese.HardCover Pub Date: 2005 Pages: 250 in Publisher: Liary of America The This collection-ings together the most memorable and enduring work inspired by the American Civil War: the on masterpieces of of Whitman and Melville Sidney Lanier on the death of of Stonewall Jackson. the anti-slavery poems of Longfellow and Whittier. the frontline narratives of Henry Howard ownell and John W. De Forest. the anthems of Julia Ward Howe and James Ryder Randall. Grief. indignation. pride. courage. patriotic fervor. ultimately reconciliation and healing: the poetry of the Civil War evokes unforgettably the emotions that roiled America in its darkest hour.
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The older poets, people like Bryant who might be described as being old even when the war began, have a very different take on it than those who were teens or even children when the war broke out. We can see this paradigm shift recapitulated in the case of a single poet, say Walt Whitman who, as McClatchy cleverly points out, was all gung ho about the war at first, but later on in life he saw the sadness and the tragedy of the war. "Drum Taps" indeed.
This writing teeters on the edge of Modernism and in fact, a fascinating sequel might be compiled, perhaps by McClatchy once again, in which the early US modernists (Amy Lowell, TS Eliot, Pound, Moore, etc) might be seen to be echoing the Civil War as a subject in their poetry. Like Lowell's poem about his Civil War ancestor. In the 20th century, McClatchy claims, poetry narrowed to the "increasingly oblique and intimate lyric." Yes, but this is only a partial truth. Plenty of poems were written on a national and epic scale, but they were increasing de-valued by partisans of New Criticism. Check out Cary Nelson's work in this area.
Though the work on view here in this book is indeed second rate, as McClatchy is eager to admit, it is not negligible, and in fact it's often thrilling, particularly the well chosen poems by Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville, Ambrose Bierce, Francis Fich, Julia Ward Howe (the famous "Battle Hymn of the Republic"), Emerson's "Boston Hymn," and four great poems by the incomparable H W Longfellow.
The volume includes selections from 33 poets, arranged chronologically by date of birth. Although Civil War poetry continues to be written, the works in this collection all were written by contemporaries to the war. The poems differ widely in quality and in theme. The volume includes works by famous early American authors, including Bryant, Emerson and Longfellow. Some readers may be surprised to learn that these writers remained active during the Civil War era. The volume also includes a short selection of reflective poems by Emily Dickinson inspired by the Civil War. Dickinson is not often considered as a Civil War poet.
The two poets who best captured the Civil War in their works, Walt Whitman and Herman Melville, are well-represented here. Whitman's poems emphasize the compassion he developed for individual soldiers as shown by "The Wound Dresser". His poems have a feeling of immediacy. The anthology also includes Whitman's great poem on the death of Lincoln, "When Lilacs Last at the Dooryard Bloom'd."
Many readers may not be aware that Herman Melville wrote Civil War poetry. Melville's poetry has received a mixed reception over the years, but I find it offers a moving and thoughtful picture of the war. Melville wrote in a deliberately halting poetic style that emphasizes the ambiguities and conflicts he felt in considering the war. He tended to write about individual battles and events, and his work can be viewed as a sort of running commentary on the war and its aftermath. This selection includes Melville's poem on the battle of Shiloh with its description of the dead as "Foemen at morn, but friends at eve," and a lengthy poem on the horrors of the battle of the Wilderness.
The poems I enjoyed in this volume include the descriptions of battles, including Henry Brownell's eyewitness account of the battle of Mobile Bay, "The Bay Fight", Thomas Read's poem, "Sheridan's Ride", Silas Weir's poem "How the Cumberland Went Down", and Kate Sherwood's "Thomas at Chickamauga". Of the poets that are not well known today, I enjoyed the selection by Henry Timrod, the "Poet Laureate of the Confederacy" and the poems by John De Forest, who is better remembered as the author of the Civil War novel, "Miss Ravenel's Conversion."
The anthology reflects many points of view including strong Southern feelings and feelings equally intense for the Union. Many of the poets, North and South, are more concerned with the death and destruction resulting from the conflict that with the righteousness of their respective causes. But abolitionist poesm such as Julia Ward howe's "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and Francis Harper's "The Slave Auction" find a place in this collection as do poems seeking a peaceful reconciliation of North and South upon the conclusion of the war. Poems with a reconciliationist sentiment include Francis Miles Finch's once well-known poem, "The Blue and the Gray." ("Love and tears for the Blue/Tears and love for the Gray.")
Poetry remains the most direct way to understand the heart of a people. Readers with an interest in understanding the Civil War will enjoy and learn from this short selection of its poetry.
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