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[Detail] The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore.

Civil War Poetry

A search on the term, poetry, yields works promoting different political agendas in the era of slavery. The Anti-Slavery Poems of John Pierpont (1843) promotes the abolitionist effort while the anthology, Personal and Political Ballads (1864), commemorates Union heroics in works such as the “Ballad of Fort Sumter”:

In sight the Star’s flag woos the breeze,
At once death-threatening notes
Come pealing o’er the swelling seas
From blazing cannon throats!

page 55

Henry Brownell’s War-lyrics and Other Poems (1866), on the other hand, takes a Southern perspective in chronicling events leading up to the Civil War, such as the 1860 Republican nomination of Abraham Lincoln in the derisive “Honest Abe”:

“Honest Abe!” What strange vexation
Thrills an office-armchaired party!
What impatience and disgust
That the people should put trust
In a name so true and hearty!
What indignant lamentation
For the unchosed—surely fitter
Growl they) than a rough rail-splitter—
Most unheard of nomination!

page 111

Contrast the stylistic differences (tone, rhyme scheme, etc.) between the poems represented in Personal and Political Ballads and those appearing in War-lyrics and Other Poems:

  • What types of images appear in these poems?
  • How are these images reinforced by the poet’s stylistic choices?
  • How do these images relate to the main idea of the poem?
  • Do you think that these poems are objective? Why or why not?
  • Who do you think is the intended audience for these different books?
  • How do you think that different audiences might react to these works? Why do you think that these writers chose to express themselves through poetry rather than an essay or some other writing style?
  • How do you think that political positions are represented in these poems?
  • Do you think that contemporary poets express political positions in their works? If so, how do contemporary poems differ from these nineteenth-century works?
  • What is the effect of describing a historical event through poetry?
  • Imitate the style of these works by composing a poem that discusses a historical event or a controversial position.