Lee Memorial Ode

Sep 16, 2021 by

This piece was originally published in the Confederate Veteran, Vol. 22, Issue 2, 1914.

Replies to the inquiry about the lines, “He did not die that day in Lexington; Fame came herself to hold his stirrup while he mounted,” place them as a part of the beautiful “Memorial Ode” by James Barron Hope, written for the laying of the corner stone of the monument to General Lee in Richmond, Va., in October, 1887. The gentle poet did not live to take part in the ceremony, his spirit having winged its flight just a few weeks before, and his poem was read on the occasion by Capt William Gordon MeCabe. The stanzas here given are selected as especially appropriate for publication at this time, the complete poem being too long for reproduction.

“And hence to-day, my countrymen,
We come with undimmed eyes,
In homage of the hero Lee,
The good, the great, the wise!
And at his name our hearts will leap
Till his last old soldier dies.

Ask me, if so you please, to paint
Storm winds upon the sea;
Tell me to weigh great Cheops,
Set volcanic forces free;
But bid me not, my countrymen,
To picture Robert Lee!

His was all the Norman’s polish
And sobriety of grace,
All the Goth’s majestic figure,
All the Roman’s noble face;
And he stood the tall exemplar
Of a grand historic race.

Baronial were his acres where
Potomac’s waters run;
High his lineage, and his blazon
Was by cunning heralds done;
But better still he might have said
Of his ‘works’ he was the ‘son.’

Truth walked beside him always,
From his childhood’s early years;
Honor followed as his shadow,
Valor lightened all his cares;
And he rode, that grand Virginian,
Last of all the Cavaliers!

As a soldier we all knew him
Great in action and repose,
Saw how his genius kindled
And his mighty spirit rose
When the four quarters of the globe
Encompassed him with foes.

But he and his grew braver
As the dangers grew more rife;
Avaricious they of glory
And most prodigal of life;
And the Army of Virginia
Was the atlas of the strife.

Then came the end, my countrymen;
The last thunderbolts were hurled.
Worn out by his own victories,
His battle flags were furled,
And a history was finished
That has changed the modern world.

As some saint in the arena
Of a bloody Roman game,
As the prize of his endeavor,
Put on an immortal frame,
Through long agonies our soldier
Won the crown of martial fame.

But there came a greater glory
To that man supremely great
When his just sword he laid aside
In peace to serve his State,
For in his classic solitude
He rose up and mastered fate.

He triumphed, and he did not die!
No funeral bells are tolled;
But on that day in Lexington
Fame came herself to hold
His stirrup while he mounted
To ride down the streets of gold.

He is not dead! There is no death!
He only went before
His journey on when Christ the Lord
Wide open held the door.
And a calm, celestial peace is his,
Thank God, for evermore.

And here to-day, my countrymen,
I tell you Lee shall ride
With that great Rebel down the years—
Twin Rebels side by side!
And confronting such a vision,
All our grief gives way to pride.

Those two shall ride immortal,
And shall ride abreast of Time,
Shall light up stately history
And blaze in epic rhyme—
Both patriots, both Virginians true,
Both Rebels, both sublime!

Our past is full of glories;
It is a shut-in sea.
The pillars overlooking it
Are Washington and Lee;
And a future spreads before us
Not unworthy of the free.”


James Barron Hope

James Barron Hope (1829-1887) was a poet, lawyer, and journalist who served in the Confederate War Department. He was honored with providing the dedication poems for numerous monuments across the South, both before and after the War.

Source: Lee Memorial Ode – Abbeville Institute

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