Timoleon

- 1819-1891

(394 B. C.)

I

   If more than once, as annals tell,
Through blood without compunction spilt,
An egotist arch rule has snatched,
And stamped the seizure with his sabre’s hilt,
   And, legalised by lawyers, stood;
Shall the good heart whose patriot fire
Leaps to a deed of startling note,
Do it, then flinch? Shall good in weak expire?
   Needs goodness lack the evil grit,
That stares down censorship and ban,
And dumbfounds saintlier ones with this—
God’s will avouched in each successful man?
   Or, put it, where dread stress inspires
A virtue beyond man’s standard rate,
Seems virtue there a strain forbid-
Transcendence such as shares transgression’s fate?
   If so, and wan eclipse ensue,
Yet glory await emergence won,
Is that high Providence, or Chance?
And proved it which with thee, Timoleon?
   O, crowned with laurel twined with thorn,
Not rash thy life’s cross-tide I stem,
But reck the problem rolled in pang
And reach and dare to touch thy garment’s hem.

II

   When Argos and Cleone strove
Against free Corinth’s claim or right,
Two brothers battled for her well:
A footman one, and one a mounted knight.
   Apart in place, each braved the brunt
Till the rash cavalryman, alone,
Was wrecked against the enemy’s files,
His bayard crippled and he maimed and thrown.
   Timoleon, at Timophanes’ need,
Makes for the rescue through the fray,
Covers him with his shield, and takes
The darts and furious odds and fights at bay;
   Till, wrought to pallor of passion dumb, 
Stark terrors of death around he throws, 
Warding his brother from the field
Spite failing friends dispersed and rallying foes.
   Here might he rest, in claim rest here,
Rest, and a Phidian form remain;
But life halts never, life must on,
And take with term prolonged some scar or stain.
   Yes, life must on. And latent germs
Time’s seasons wake in mead and man;
And brothers, playfellows in youth,
Develop into variance wide in span.

III

   Timophanes was his mother’s pride—
Her pride, her pet, even all to her
Who slackly on Timoleon looked:
Scarce he (she mused) may proud affection stir.
   He saved my darling, gossips tell:
If so, ’twas service, yea, and fair;
But instinct ruled and duty bade,
In service such, a henchman e’en might share.
   When boys they were I helped the bent;
I made the junior feel his place,
Subserve the senior, love him, too;
And sooth he does, and that’s his saving grace.
   But me the meek one never can serve,
Not he, he lacks the quality keen
To make the mother through the son
An envied dame of power, a social queen.
   But thou, my first-born, thou art I
In sex translated; joyed, I scan
My features, mine, expressed in thee;
Thou art what I would be were I a man.
   My brave Timophanes, ’tis thou
Who yet the world’s forefront shalt win,
For thine the urgent resolute way,
Self pushing panoplied self through thick and thin.
   Nor here maternal insight erred:
Forsworn, with heart that did not wince
At slaying men who kept their vows,
Her darling strides to power, and reigns—a Prince.

IV

   Because of just heart and humane,
Profound the hate Timoleon knew
For crimes of pride and men-of-prey
And impious deeds that perjurous upstarts do;
   And Corinth loved he, and in way
Old Scotia’s clansman loved his clan,
Devotion one with ties how dear
And passion that late to make the rescue ran.
   But crime and kin—the terrorised town,
The silent, acquiescent mother—
Revulsion racks the filial heart,
The loyal son, the patriot true, the brother.
   In evil visions of the night
He sees the lictors of the gods, 
Giant ministers of righteousness,
Their fasces threatened by the Furies’ rods.
   But undeterred he wills to act,
Resolved thereon though Ate rise;
He heeds the voice whose mandate calls,
Or seems to call, peremptory from the skies.

V

   Nor less but by approaches mild,
And trying each prudential art,
The just one first advances him
In parley with a flushed intemperate heart.
   The brother first he seeks—alone,
And pleads; but is with laughter met;
Then comes he, in accord with two,
And these adjure the tyrant and beset;
   Whose merriment gives place to rage:
“Go,” stamping, “what to me is Right?
I am the Wrong, and lo, I reign,
And testily intolerant too in might”:
   And glooms on his mute brother pale,
Who goes aside; with muffled face
He sobs the predetermined word,
And Right in Corinth reassumes its place.

VI

   But on his robe, ah, whose the blood?
And craven ones their eyes avert,
And heavy is a mother’s ban,
And dismal faces of the fools can hurt.
   The whispering-gallery of the world,
Where each breathed slur runs wheeling wide.
Eddies a false perverted truth,
Inveterate turning still on fratricide.
   The time was Plato’s. Wandering lights
Confirmed the atheist’s standing star;
As now, no sanction Virtue knew
For deeds that on prescriptive morals jar.
   Reaction took misgiving’s tone,
Infecting conscience, till betrayed
To doubt the irrevocable doom
Herself had authorised when undismayed.
   Within perturbed Timoleon here
Such deeps were bared as when the sea,
Convulsed, vacates its shoreward bed,
And Nature’s last reserves show nakedly.
   He falters, and from Hades’ glens
By night insidious tones implore—
Why suffer? hither come and be
What Phocion is who feeleth man no more.
   But, won from that, his mood elects
To live—to live in wilding place;
For years self-outcast, he but meets
In shades his playfellow’s reproachful face.
   Estranged through one transcendent deed
From common membership in mart,
In severance he is like a head
Pale after battle trunkless found apart.

VII

   But flood-tide comes though long the ebb,
Nor patience bides with passion long;
Like sightless orbs his thoughts are rolled
Arraigning heaven as compromised in wrong:
   “To second causes why appeal?
Vain parleying here with fellow clods.
To you, Arch Principals, I rear
My quarrel, for this quarrel is with gods.
   “Shall just men long to quit your world?
It is aspersion of your reign; 
Your marbles in the temple stand—
Yourselves as stony and invoked in vain?”
Ah, bear with one quite overborne,
Olympians, if he chide ye now;
Magnanimous be even though he rail
And hard against ye set the bleaching brow.—
   “ If conscience doubt, she’ll next recant.
What basis then? O, tell at last,
Are earnest natures staggering here
But fatherless shadows from no substance cast?
   “Yea, are ye, gods? Then ye, ’tis ye
Should show what touch of tie ye may,
Since ye, too, if not wrung are wronged
By grievous misconceptions of your sway.
   “But deign, some little sign be given-
Low thunder in your tranquil skies;
Me reassure, nor let me be
Like a lone dog that for a master cries.”
 

VIII

   Men’s moods, as frames, must yield to years,
And turns the world in fickle ways;
Corinth recalls Timoleon—ay,
And plumes him forth, but yet with schooling phrase.
   On Sicily’s fields, through arduous wars,
A peace he won whose rainbow spanned
The isle redeemed; and he was hailed
Deliverer of that fair colonial land. 
   And Corinth clapt: Absolved, and more!
Justice in long arrears is thine:
Not slayer of thy brother, no,
But saviour of the state, Jove’s soldier, man divine.
   Eager for thee thy City waits:
Return! with bays we dress your door.
But he, the Isle’s loved guest, reposed,
And never for Corinth left the adopted shore.

More by Herman Melville

America

I

Where the wings of a sunny Dome expand
I saw a Banner in gladsome air—
Starry, like Berenice's Hair—
Afloat in broadened bravery there;
With undulating long-drawn flow,
As rolled Brazilian billows go
Voluminously o'er the Line.
The Land reposed in peace below;
   The children in their glee
Were folded to the exulting heart
   Of young Maternity.

II

Later, and it streamed in fight
   When tempest mingled with the fray,
And over the spear-point of the shaft
   I saw the ambiguous lightning play.
Valor with Valor strove, and died:
Fierce was Despair, and cruel was Pride;
And the lorn Mother speechless stood,
Pale at the fury of her brood.


III

Yet later, and the silk did wind
        Her fair cold for;
Little availed the shining shroud,
   Though ruddy in hue, to cheer or warm
A watcher looked upon her low, and said—
She sleeps, but sleeps, she is not dead.
   But in that sleep contortion showed
The terror of the vision there—
   A silent vision unavowed,
Revealing earth's foundation bare,
   And Gorgon in her hidden place.
It was a thing of fear to see
   So foul a dream upon so fair a face,
And the dreamer lying in that starry shroud.

IV

But from the trance she sudden broke—
The trance, or death into promoted life;
At her feet a shivered yoke,
And in her aspect turned to heaven
   No trace of passion or of strife—
A clear calm look. It spake of pain,
But such as purifies from stain—
Sharp pangs that never come again—
   And triumph repressed by knowledge meet,
Power delicate, and hope grown wise,
   And youth matured for age's seat—
Law on her brow and empire in her eyes.
   So she, with graver air and lifted flag;
While the shadow, chased by light,
Fled along the far-brawn height,
   And left her on the crag.

Gettysburg

O Pride of the days in prime of the months
  Now trebled in great renown,
When before the ark of our holy cause
	Fell Dagon down-
Dagon foredoomed, who, armed and targed,
Never his impious heart enlarged
Beyond that hour; God walled his power,
And there the last invader charged.

He charged, and in that charge condensed
  His all of hate and all of fire;
He sought to blast us in his scorn,
	And wither us in his ire.
Before him went the shriek of shells-
Aerial screamings, taunts and yells;
Then the three waves in flashed advance
  Surged, but were met, and back they set:
Pride was repelled by sterner pride,
  And Right is a strong-hold yet.

Before our lines it seemed a beach
  Which wild September gales have strown
With havoc on wreck, and dashed therewith
	Pale crews unknown-
Men, arms, and steeds. The evening sun
Died on the face of each lifeless one,
And died along the winding marge of fight
	And searching-parties lone.

Sloped on the hill the mounds were green,
  Our centre held that place of graves,
And some still hold it in their swoon,
  And over these a glory waves.
The warrior-monument, crashed in fight,
Shall soar transfigured in loftier light,
	A meaning ampler bear;
Soldier and priest with hymn and prayer
Have laid the stone, and every bone
	Shall rest in honor there.

Shiloh: A Requiem

Skimming lightly, wheeling still,
  The swallows fly low
Over the field in clouded days,
  The forest-field of Shiloh—
Over the field where April rain
Solaced the parched ones stretched in pain
through the pause of night
That followed the Sunday fight
  Around the church of Shiloh—
The church so lone, the log-built one,
That echoed to many a parting groan
 	And natural prayer
  Of dying foemen mingled there—
Foemen at morn, but friends at eve—
  Fame or country least their care:
(What like a bullet can undeceive!)
  But now they lie low,
While over them the swallows skim,
  And all is hushed at Shiloh.