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Although most often recognized as the author of the classic novel Moby Dick, Herman Melville wrote poetry as well, and this poem is one of several he wrote about the American Civil War. In these lines, Melville ruminates on the bloody, horrific Battle of Shiloh in southern Tennessee and the tragic fruitlessness of war in general. Just about a year after the firing on Fort Sumter, the Battle of Shiloh occurred near a church bearing the same name, which is, ironically enough, said to mean either "place of peace" or "His Gift" in Hebrew. Melville begins with an image of swallows flying "Over the field where April rain/Solaced the parched one stretched in pain", a reference to the rain that fell on the night of the battle, even as the cries of the wounded could still be heard on the battlefield. He also refers to "Foemen at morn but friends at eve", pointing to the pointlessness of war fought between people who really don't have anything against each other personally, but fight instead for a cause created by politicians far away. Although the poem reads somewhat like free verse, there are rhymed couplets that prevent it from being categorized strictly as such. Most importantly, it is a fairly short but powerful eulogy for the people who sacrified in the Battle of Shiloh, the American Civil War, and war in general.
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