Robert C. Ryan, Harrison Hayford, Alma A. MacDougall, and G. Thomas Tanselle (eds), The Writings of Herman Melville: The Northwestern-Newberry Edition, Vol. 11: Published Poems: Battle-Pieces; John Marr; Timoleon
pg 111Editor’s NoteAurora-BorealisCommemorative of the Dissolution of Armies at the Peace (May, 1865)
- 1What power disbands the Northern Lights
- 2 After their steely play?
- Editor’s Note3The lonely watcher feels an awe
- 4 Of Nature's sway,
- 5 As when appearing,
- 6 He marked their flashed uprearing
- 7In the cold gloom—
- 8 Retreatings and advancings,
- 9(Like dallyings of doom),
- 10 Transitions and enhancings,
- 11 And bloody ray.
- 12The phantom-host has faded quite,
- 13 Splendor and Terror gone—
- 14Portent or promise—and gives way
- 15 To pale, meek Dawn;
- 16 The coming, going,
- 17 Alike in wonder showing—
- 18Alike the God,
- 19 Decreeing and commanding
- 20The million blades that glowed,
- 21 The muster and disbanding—
- 22 Midnight and Morn.
References to "Northern Lights" in connection with armor appear also in Moby-Dick, chap. 56 ("at Versailles … every sword seems a flash of Northern Lights"), and Mardi, chap. 32 ("But true warriors polish their good blades by the bright beams of the morning … keep their metal lustrous and keen, as the spears of the Northern Lights charging over Greenland"). Melville saw newspaper articles such as the Cincinnati Gazette story of Chattanooga (Rebellion Record, 8:228, doc. 14): "The rays of the sun, reflected from ten thousand bayonets, dazzled the beholder's eyes."