Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Civil War Poetry of Alfred B. Street

Albany poet Alfred Billings Street was, in his day, best known for his sentimental nature poems and his published accounts of excursions into the Adirondack wilderness.  He also delivered verses for many civic occasions (such as the consecration of the Albany Rural Cemetery)

During the Civil War, however, the focus of poems turned to patriotic Union themes.  He would publish nineteen such works beginning with "Smite!" (reprinted below) at the beginning of the war and ending with "Abraham Lincoln Dead." 

Several of these poems would celebrate local heroes, including Colonel Lewis Benedict.  Another was read for the opening of the Army Relief Bazaar.  These poems, mostly printed in local newspapers, were later included in a two-volume collection of his poems published in 1866.

Foes on our banner are bashing;
   Freedom that banner upholds,
Calling her sons to her aid,
City and mountain and glade!
   Rally then under its folds!
   Stars, ye bear hope in your light!
  Pearl, thou art emblem of right!
Wrath in the crimson is flashing:

See!  the dim forms of our fathers,
   Frowning, bend low to our sight;
Voices are heard on the gale:
"Sons, if ye cowardly fail,
   Hide in the caverns of night!
   No!  ye will on in your might!
As the storm over us gathers,

Here hang the hopes of the nation!
   Choice have we only to fight!
Sorrows shall nerve us anew!
Know but in battle's red dew
    Peace spreads her blossom of white;
   Smite then for our freedom and right! --
Smite! 't'is our only salvation!

(Detail of Albany's Soldiers & Sailors Monument)

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