Herman Melville discussion

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Melville: The Making of a Poet by Hershel Parker

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message 1: by Donald (new)

Donald (donf) | 26 comments I just picked up this book on a subject I’m interested in but don’t know much about yet. I have a copy of the “Poems of Herman Melville” but have only done spotty reading. I’m not greatly
impressed with his Civil War poems, they are certainly not great poems. I do like the “Maldive Shark,” which is much anthologized and mistitled,
I believe. Anyone have an interest in Melville’s poems, or have a favorite?


message 2: by Keith (new)

Keith | 3 comments I've read his Battle Pieces, and I have to admit to being disappointed. His long poem, Clarel, is almost unreadable. I recommend the poems he wrote later in his life, (John Marr and Other Sailors). These go back to his sailing days and seem to awaken some freshness.

It's strange. When Melville wrote prose, it was poetry. (Many of the great passages can be broken into iambic pentameter.) For example, here's something from Moby Dick:

"The sea had leeringly kept his finite body up, but drowned the infinite of his soul. Not drowned entirely, though. Rather carried down alive to wondrous depths, where strange shapes of the unwarped primal world glided to and fro before his passive eyes; and the miser-merman, Wisdom, revealed his hoarded heaps; and among the joyous, heartless, ever-juvenile eternities, Pip saw the multitudinous, God-omnipresent, coral insects, that out of the firmament of waters heaved the colossal orbs. He saw God's foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke it; and therefore his shipmates called him mad. So man's insanity is heaven's sense; and wandering from all mortal reason, man comes at last to that celestial thought, which, to reason, is absurd and frantic; and weal or woe, feels then uncompromised, indifferent as his God."


And when Melville wrote poetry, well, it's something different.


message 3: by Donald (new)

Donald (donf) | 26 comments Keith, thanks so much for your interesting comments. I agree with all you've said. I think that some in academia have tried to revive "Clarel," and maybe over sell it, but from the little I've read of it, I agree with your assessment. That's not to say I won't attempt a full reading at some later date, but first I will probably consult a commentary so I know where it's heading.I know I've seen such commentaries. There's also a book about this Middle East trip which might also be helpful.


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