April 2, 2010

A dirge for Albert Pike

Albert Pike gave up on writing poetry long before his death and turned his attention particularly to his role with the Freemasons; he earned the title Sovereign Grand Commander. At 81 years old, he wrote his will, leaving specific instructions for the care of his body and his funeral. However, when he died on April 2, 1891, his instructions were not followed.

He asked that his body be "cremated without any ceremony other than the word 'Good-bye!'" His ashes, he asked, be placed between two acacia trees. He specifically requested no "procession, parade or music," only the Kadosh ceremony of the Freemasons. Instead, his Masonic brothers had his body lay in state for two days, where it was visited by thousands. In addition to the Kadosh the next day, they held services at an episcopal church the day after that.

Rather than no ceremony at all, it was somewhat extravagant. One attendee noted that the walls of the church were covered in black draperies and his coffin was surrounded by candles in tall, silver candlesticks. At his head was a huge iron cross. The body was draped in laurel, vines, berries, and violets. He was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Other Masons commissioned a white marble gravestone which was placed in 1917. As he requested, the stone listed only his name, birth and death dates, and the words: Laborum Ejus Superstites Sunt Fructus Vixit. Apparently, his body was later moved to the House of the Temple, the Masonic headquarters in Washington.

Shortly after his death, efforts were made to honor Albert Pike with public art in Washington, D.C. A statue was finally unveiled in 1901. It depicts Pike with a book in one hand seated on a slab of granite, with a secondary statue of Minerva at his feet. A witness to its unveiling called it "one of the most important Masonic events that ever took place." Masons from around the country were present. Pike remains the only former Confederate officer honored with a statue in Washington.

 From his poem, "A Dirge":

     Vainly, ah! vainly we deplore
     Thy death, departed friend! No more
  Shalt thou be seen by us beneath the skies.
     The barbed arrow has gone through
     Thy heart, and all the blue
  Hath faded from thy clay-cold veins, and thou,
  With stern and pain-contracted brow,
Like one that wrestled mightily with death,
     Art lying here now.


  1. Ah yes, Albert Pike, about whom fellow Confederate general Douglas Cooper proclaimed that he was "either insane or untrue to the South" (from "Generals in Gray," by Ezra J. Warner). Pike is also one in a long line of folks who request one type of funeral and place of burial and receive entirely another because family and/or friends do what THEY think best instead of following the deceased's wishes. (Another example would be Revolutionary War General "Mad" Anthony Wayne).

  2. Yes, it's hard to tell if Albert Pike, the Bostonian (!!), qualifies as a true Southerner!

  3. Again, according to Warner's book, Pike was an anti-secessionist who sided with the South because of the large amount of land he owned in Arkansas, such that he "cast his lot with the South rather than desert his friends and property." Interesting that Pike and Poe were both poets born in Boston in 1809 (albeit nearly 12 months apart) who ended-up leaning Southward, for their own individual reasons.

  4. Poe's "leanings," southward or otherwise, are heavily, heavily debatable. I won't give my opinion, if that's okay.

    Nevertheless, my interest in Pike comes solely from his poetry, not from his political leanings.