Febris (n.d.)

This poem, which appears to be autobiographical (see introduction to d2_MelA_014), describes the narrator's struggle with a burning fever. It likens the sickness to a physical manifestation of grave sin, such as the rebel angels carried out against God which resulted in their fall from grace. The poem then turns to attack the agent behind this wickedness, Satan himself, who hopes to entrap mortal souls by weakening their physical bodies. The last two stanzas see a sudden and complete reversal of the dark and brooding tone of the first 44 lines. The narrator looks to Christ to return and bring about the last judgment, and in doing so to end the physical suffering that he is so afflicted with. Melville was known anecdotally to have had poor health throughout his life, and was described by his nephew as 'a seiklie tender boy' who 'tuk pleasur in na thing sa mikle as his buik' (JMAD, pp. 38-9). This poem is fascinating as a possible reflection of his own frustrations with his poor health. Metre: sapphic stanzas.

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1Morbe, turbator placidae quietis,
morbe, depulsor liquidi sereni,
morbe, jucundi populator aevi, et
lucis et umbrae: 1

5quid mihi tecum scelerata pestis?
Cur mihi fœdas glomeras procellas?
Fœta curarum, tenebrisque cincta
noctis opacae? 2

9Tene me informi macie strigosi
corporis larvam facere? Ossa rugae ut
aridae insternant cutis, et superstes
decolor umbra.

13Concutit corpus tremor, ardor intus
insidens imas populat medullas,
guttur exsiccat sitis; inde salsos
solvor in imbres.

17Si lues morbum violenta ferret
perpetim, obstaret mora nulla morti.
Nunc breves sunt induciae, ut supersit
mortis imago. 3

21Caelites ausu tumidi nefando
caelitum regem solio moveri,
et suo regi ab solio jubere,
sponte ruinam

25attrahunt: qua jam statione moti
dantur in praeceps Erebi, sub umbras.
Hinc solum terra sate vertis exul,
numine laeso. 4

29Hinc scelus dirum, scelerisque diri
pœna Dirarum soboles Sororum,
corpori hinc febris fera, nigra cordi
incubuit nox.

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33Hinc sui fastus peperit ruinam,
hinc fides fastu labefacta vexit,
hinc fidem serpens labefecit astu
Daemonis atri.

37O ferum fatum! O mala sors misellis!
Vae tibi fraudis coluber repertor,
luce dejectus, fuga lucis omni es
noctifer orbi.

41Quas dabis tandem scelerate pœnas? 5
Quis novus, quis te manet Orcus? Omni
quis probro finis? Modus aut dolori, aut
ignibus atris.

45At tibi, lucis reparator almae,
qui prius lucem e tenebris tulisti
ultor inferni Iovis, et profundae
perditor aulae:

49vota iam supplex facio, cruore
iam tuo lethi e tenebris redemptus:
iam redi, et morbis miserisque finem im-
52pone tenebris.

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A fever

1Sickness, disturber of placid sleep, sickness, you thruster aside of fair weather, sickness, ravager of my agreeable age, a and of day and night:

5 why do you plague me with your wickedness? why do you heap filthy tempests upon me? Why are you filled with anxieties, and girded with the darkness of dense night?

9Why do you make me into a ghost with the shapeless thinness of a lean body? So that creases of skin stretch over my bones, and so that you, a pale shade, may stand over me.

13 Shaking convulses my body, a deep-seated fire burns within me which over-runs my innermost marrow, thirst dries up my throat; as a result, I break down in salty tears.

17If the vehement plague continually brought sickness, no hindrance would stand in the way of death. But now there is a short truce, so that only a likeness of death remains.

21The angels, swollen with unspeakable daring to have moved the heavenly king from his throne, and from his throne to give commands to the king, brought ruin upon themselves: b

25 So that now removed from their station they find themselves given over to Hell's abyss, beneath the shadows. Sprung hence from this land you are turned into an exile alone, because you have offended God.

29Just as dire sin is the payment, and the punishment of dire sins the offspring, of the Dire Sisters, so too savage fever lies upon the body, and upon the heart lies black night.

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33As arrogance brought forth its own ruin, and tottering faith was cursed with arrogance, so too the serpent shook weakened faith with the black cunning of the Demon.

37O savage fate! O the evil lot of wretched people! Woe to you serpent, author of fraud, you who have been hurled from the light, who is fugitive from the light, nightbringer to all the world.

41Wicked one, what price will you pay in the end? What new Orcus awaits you? What is the end for every shameful person? The allotted measure is either pain, or black fires.

45But to you, restorer of dear light, who first lifted up light from darkness, the punisher of infernal Jove, and destroyer of the court of the profound depths:

49 now as a supplicant I make a prayer to you, having already been redeemed from the darkness of death by your blood: now return, and put an end to sickness and miserable darkness.



1: Buchanan, Psalms XC.8

2: See note at final line of stanza five below.

3: A phrase from Virgil Aeneid II.369, reused by Melville in the 'Carmen Mosis' (d2_MelA_005), l.167. However, the influence of Buchanan is clear: : ...opaca ludens / noctis imago.' Psalms XC.23-24. See final line of stanza two above.

4: Virgil, Aeneid I.8

5: Quintilian, Lesser Declamations II.314.16


a: In other words, the narrator is in the prime of life.

b: The fall of Satan or Lucifer, and the rebel angels, as seen in Revelation 12:7-10.