SUNDAY | A bonus McClellan poetry day! Let's continue with verse related to Ball's Bluff.
When Joyce Carol Oates declared Emily Dickinson never to have written about the Civil War, she was immediately and publicly rebuked, which is as it should be. Yet I suspect most people feel instinctively, as Oates did.
The war made its way into a number of Dickinson's poems. She read the newspapers. She looked at Brady's photographs of the dead. And she followed her social set's coming and goings in the struggle (her family was very prominent and political within Amherst society.)
Given the Massachusetts flavor of events at Ball's Bluff (see Lander's poem, yesterday) and the number of Bay State social lions involved, I feel it safe to speculate that the following poem, provisionally dated by specialists to about 1862, alludes to the same battle. The capitalization of Balls for balls may not be a clue; Dickinson was prone to capitalize nouns. Nor is there a title to help us here.
(Note: the word in the last line is "contenteder" = more content. Most transcriptions on the Internet render it as "contender" - beware. )
My Portion is Defeat -- today --
A paler luck than Victory --
Less Paeans -- fewer Bells --
The Drums don't follow Me -- with tunes --
Defeat -- a somewhat slower -- means --
More Arduous than Balls --
'Tis populous with Bone and stain --
And Men too straight to stoop again --,
And Piles of solid Moan --
And Chips of Blank -- in Boyish Eyes --
And scraps of Prayer --
And Death's surprise,
Stamped visible -- in Stone --
There's somewhat prouder, over there --
The Trumpets tell it to the Air --
How different Victory
To Him who has it -- and the One
Who to have had it, would have been
Contenteder -- to die --