Poems of Ambrose Bierce


edited and introduced byM. E. Grenander.University of Nebraska, 240 pages, $55.00.
Ambrose, nicknamed Bitter, Bierce did not consider himself a poet, and, Ms. Grenander’s appreciative introduction notwithstanding, he was right. He was, however, an adroit writer of satirical verses savaging “railrogues,” hypocritical priests and patriots, devious lawyers, and crooked politicians. (Like his contemporary Mark Twain, he would have considered that last adjective redundant.) He foresaw a time when
“Red-handed murder rioted; and there
The people gathered gold, nor cared
to loose
The assassin’s fingers from the
victim’s throat,
But said, each in his vile pursuit
‘Am I my brother’s keeper? Let
the Law
Look to the matter.’ But the Law
did not.”
Bierce fought for the Union at the start of his adult life, and the subsequent rise of Jim Crowism led him to complain, “I know what uniform I wore— / O, that I knew which side I fought for!” He died in Mexico, observing Puncho Villa’s forces in another civil war, after a lifetime of varied, cantankerous, sharp-witted journalism. He wrote soundly—in prose—on literary matters; several such pieces are usefully included in this collection. Ms. Grenander is reasonable in requesting that Bierce be remembered for more than that invaluable work The Devil’s Dictionary.
by Phoebe-Lou Adams