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This poem is taken from PN Review 95, Volume 20 Number 3, January - February 1994.

Melville's Letter to William Clark Russell Helen Pinkerton

victrix causa deis placuit sed victa Catoni
Lucan, Bellum Civile, I, 128

FOR G.E.L.

New York City, 1888

You ask me, Russell, why we fought and why,
These long years after Appomattox, we
Conceal, as if it were an unhealed wound,
The motives, costs, and choices from ourselves;
Why we call it the 'late unpleasantness',
Shielding from foreign eyes our damaged past.
I thought once that I knew. When in the months
That followed Lee's surrender I composed
My battle poems, praising the dead and living,
The gallant captains and their men, naming
The fields and rivers where they gave their blood
For principles that reason could not weigh
While funeral lights still flared, I did not see,
Though I saw more than most, that a just cause
May not be always visible to all,
...


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