Herman Melville

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

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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.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
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."
Editor’s Note
Discussions. 111.3 The … awe] In Harvard Copy C of BP, Melville underlined these words and wrote at the top of the page "The watcher feels a creeping awe"; but NN does not emend since he did not line out the printed words (see pp. 600–602 above).
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