The Swamp Angel

Original Text: 
Collected Poems of Herman Melville, ed. Howard P. Vincent (Chicago: Packard, 1947): 70-72. PS 2382 V5 Robarts Library
2    With a thick Afric lip,
3And he dwells (like the hunted and harried)
4    In a swamp where the green frogs dip.
5But his face is against a City
6    Which is over a bay of the sea,
7And he breathes with a breath that is blastment,
8    And dooms by a far decree.
9By night there is fear in the City,
10    Through the darkness a star soareth on;
11There's a scream that screams up to the zenith,
12    Then the poise of a meteor lone --
13Lighting far the pale fright of the faces,
14    And downward the coming is seen;
15Then the rush, and the burst, and the havoc,
16    And wails and shrieks between.
17It comes like the thief in the gloaming;
18    It comes, and none may foretell
19The place of the coming -- the glaring;
20    They live in a sleepless spell
21That wizens, and withers, and whitens;
22    It ages the young, and the bloom
23Of the maiden is ashes of roses --
24    The Swamp Angel broods in his gloom.
25Swift is his messengers' going,
26    But slowly he saps their halls,
27As if by delay deluding.
28    They move from their crumbling walls
29Farther and farther away;
30    But the Angel sends after and after,
31By night with the flame of his ray --
32    By night with the voice of his screaming --
33Sends after them, stone by stone,
34    And farther walls fall, farther portals,
35And weed follows weed through the Town.
36Is this the proud City? the scorner
37Which never would yield the ground?
38Which mocked at the coal-black Angel?
39The cup of despair goes round.
40Vainly she calls upon Michael
41(The white man's seraph was he),
43To the Angel over the sea.
44Who weeps for the woeful City
45Let him weep for our guilty kind;
46Who joys at her wild despairing --
47Christ, the Forgiver, convert his mind.


1] "The great Parrott gun, planted in the marshes of James Island, and employed in the prolonged, though at times intermitted bombardment of Charleston, was known among our soldiers as the Swamp Angel" (Melville's note). The gun and carriage, which weighed 24,000 pounds, shot 36 incendiary shells against the city before exploding. Back to Line
42] St. Michael's Church, Charleston. Back to Line
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: