What mean these peals from every tower,
And crowds like seas that sway?
The cannon reply; they speak the heart
Of the People impassioned, and say—
A city in flags for a city in flames,
Richmond goes Babylon's way—
Sing and pray.
O weary years and woeful wars,
And armies in the grave;
But hearts unquelled at last deter
The helmed dilated Lucifer—
Honor to Grant the brave,
Whose three stars now like Orion's rise
When wreck is on the wave—
Bless his glaive.
Well that the faith we firmly kept,
And never our aim forswore
For the Terrors that trooped from each recess
When fainting we fought in the Wilderness,
And Hell made loud hurrah,
But God is in Heaven, and Grant in the Town,
And Right through might is Law—
God's way adore.
More than that, many scholars have seen an ironic or embittered view of the war in Melville's poetry. In the case of "The Fall of Richmond," his over-the-top rhetoric borders on satirical, as in his reference to the Confederacy as "helmed dilated Lucifer." The subtitle reminds us, however, that such a perspective is one-sided. Further, the poem and its prayer-like italicized sections seems innocent at first reading but actually paints a picture of a population calling for blood: the cannon speaks their collective heart, for example, despite their constant swaying (as in their opinions or loyalties). Hell has come to Earth by the final stanza, and "Right through might is Law" is incongruously connected to adoring "God's way" in the last line. Other poems in the book focus on specific battles of the Civil War, including the more famous "Shiloh: A Requiem."