Herman Melville’s Poem “The Eagle of the Blue” Pays Tribute to Old Abe the War Eagle
Writer Herman Melville is best known for the novel Moby Dick, but he also wrote poetry in addition to prose. In 1866, he published a book of poems about the Civil War called “Battle Pieces and Aspects of the Civil War”. One of the poems in the collection is “The Eagle of the Blue”, written about Ole Abe the War Eagle, the famous live bald eagle mascot of the 8th Wisconsin Infantry.
Old Abe went into action with the 8th Wisconsin in many of the battles of the war’s Western campaigns, and became quite famous. (See this post for more about Old Abe). Melville was one of his admirers, and was inspired to write the poem about him.
The Eagle of the Blue
Aloft he guards the starry folds
Who is the brother of the star;
The bird whose joy is in the wind
Exultleth in the war.
No painted plume—a sober hue,
His beauty is his power;
That eager calm of gaze intent
Foresees the Sibyl’s hour.
Austere, he crowns the swaying perch,
Flapped by the angry flag;
The hurricane from the battery sings,
But his claw has known the crag.
Amid the scream of shells, his scream
Runs shrilling; and the glare
Of eyes that brave the blinding sun
The vollied flame can bear.
The pride of quenchless strength is his—
Strength which, though chained, avails;
The very rebel looks and thrills—
The anchored Emblem hails.
Though scarred in many a furious fray,
No deadly hurt he knew;
Well may we think his years are charmed—
The Eagle of the Blue.
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