Lee, “a public nuisance”

“Not marble nor the gilded monuments . . .”
Shakespeare, Sonnet 55

“It is history that teaches us to hope.”
Robert E. Lee

A century and more he stood alone
Atop his column, elevated, grave,
Arms folded, in full military dress,
Looking hard north from where “those people” came.

Now workers come, in bulletproof vests and masks,
Lifted up toward his feet by a yellow crane,
Lashing him with blue straps, straining to turn
Tight bolts that held him steady in his place.

And soon the crew would hoist, then bring him down
Where civil war had broken out again—
Our own Fire-Eaters, Abolitionists
Shouting half-truths, flags clashing at the base.

Such wars displace old statues, raise up new,
Which will themselves be toppled, shattered, ground
Into the very dust to which the dead
Like columns that exalt them must return.

Lee was no “marble man,” no man of bronze,
And would have been dismayed to find himself
Set on so high a pillar, so revered
By some as almost saint or demigod.

And yet how few have characters less flawed:
This man whom Lincoln offered the command
Of a whole army to subdue the South
(His statue raised for that inside the Dome!),

This sinner who not far from a black man knelt
There at the rail while other whites held back
Until by his example shamed and led
To join him at the Table of the Lord.

The public is not ready for the truth,
So cautioned Lee when southern flags were furled,
This man who did his duty, kept his faith
That time might soften fury into love:

Old soldiers reenacting Pickett’s Charge—
The Jubilee of Gettysburg that fell
The year before the Great War—graybeards all,
Rebs crossing blood-sown ground toward Yankee tears and hugs.

But, Lee, “a public nuisance,” is removed
By politicians, men in vests and masks,
From civic space to city warehouse hauled,
Consigned for now to darkness not his own.

Yet on that pillar where so long he stood
There still remains the measure of the man,
A presence some can sense and none disturb
Sculpted in tempered memories and words.

From David Middleton’s new collection of poetry, Outside the Gates of Eden.

David Middleton

Until his retirement in June of 2010, David Middleton served for 33 years as Professor of English at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana. In April 2006 Middleton won The Allen Tate Award for best verse published in The Sewanee Review for 2005. In November 2006 Middleton won the State of Louisiana Governor’s Award for Outstanding Professional Artist for 2006. Middleton’s books of verse include The Burning Fields (LSU Press, 1991), As Far as Light Remains (The Cummington Press [Harry Duncan], 1993), Beyond the Chandeleurs (LSU Press, 1999), and The Habitual Peacefulness of Gruchy: Poems After Pictures by Jean-François Millet (LSU Press, 2005). Middleton’s newest collection, The Fiddler of Driskill Hill: Poems (poems of Louisiana North and South) was published by LSU Press in the fall of 2013.


  • Billy P says:

    It’s been said (roughly)…. Poor are countries without heroes, poorer still are countries with heroes that choose to forget them.
    A fitting tribute on this day to arguably America’s greatest. Happy birthday, General Lee!
    The hordes can try but their efforts are in vain…you will never be forgotten.

    • Paul Yarbrough says:

      Deep within, the “hordes” are in great pain because they do not understand why Lee is so beloved. They keep punching the tar baby and cannot understand why they do no harm, but to themselves.

    • Forget them.

      Without heroes to inspire something greater than yourself, then it is the blind leading the blind.

      Oh, we do have heroes of a sort today. Most of them wish to destroy, not build!

      “Embrace our animal nature” they sort of cry! Go down to your nearest ghetto or white trash area and see this in action!

      It was said, once that one should have friends a bit ahead of you in qualities so that you are inspired to grow. If one has only people for friends who are below your soul-quality, they will only waster your time. Same with countries!

  • Matt C. says:

    If the reader admires, appreciates, and cherishes the memory of Robert E. Lee (I do), make sure to follow his example to be a Christian and in the biblical faith. In my reading of Lee, he was a believer. His Cavalry commander was a believer also. If Lee and Stuart could say now, they’d surely say, “Don’t neglect the gospel of God’s grace.”

  • Joyce says:

    I have the honour of living not far General Lee’s birthplace. It’s snowing on this his birthday and the perfect occasion to sit by the fire and read Lee in the Mountains and Mr. Middleton’ s touching and beautiful poem.

    • Gordon says:

      A beautiful, awe-inspiring place. I’ve visited many times. I’ve noticed in reports and solicitations from Stratford Hall that it no longer is identified as “The Birthplace of Robert E. Lee”, as it was founded and restored. I’ve figured it would be the last to fall. The Stratford research library is named after a founder, Jesse Ball duPont. I read recently, as a Confederate monument in Jacksonville, FL came down, the mayor thanked The Jesse Ball duPont Foundation for their assistance in removal. I hope it’s not a harbinger. I wonder if docents still point out the angels in the hearth that young Robert ran to say goodbye to as the family left for good?

      I’ve been planning a visit. I’ll wave as I drive by.

  • Joyce says:

    “Not far from” I meant to say.

  • R R Schoettker says:

    Those who think it takes a public statue to keep an honorable man remembered and respected and thus that their reputation can be ‘cancelled’ by its removal are all damn fools who hopefully will all soon be forgotten forever.

  • William Quinton Platt III says:

    God bless Robert E. Lee.

  • Kenneth Robbins says:

    The South could use a strong dose of Puritanism/Calvinism.

  • Gary Wright says:

    Who are these men? That hide and carry out the devil’s work. Show their faces and names if they do what is right. These men have built nothing. They only know how to tear down. Shameful beings.

    • William Quinton Platt III says:

      They are communists…they were called out by McCarthy but the US public decided to keep the left-coast film industry over our freedom. For some reason a few months ago, thousands of megadonors stopped sending money to communist colleges on the east coast…it seems the money they were sending to harvard (among others) was being spent on the salaries of incompetent and corrupt professors. When asked why they stopped sending money, the donors replied, “we were ok with the money being used to attack White Christians…but now that we’re being attacked, we’ve decided to send our money elsewhere.”

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