Selected Poems of Herman Melville

Selected Poems of Herman Melville

Selected Poems of Herman Melville

Selected Poems of Herman Melville

Synopsis

The entries collected in The Selected Poems of Herman Melville were chosen with literary consideration foremost, but poems of lesser regard also appear in the interest of exploring Melville's artistic development and their correlation with his novels. Included are poems from Battle Pieces, commemorating the Civil War; Clarel, an ambitious work of epic length about travelers to the Holy Land; John Marr and Other Sailors, draw from his experience as a seaman; and pieces he had in planning,such as those about the "Burgundy Club" and a collection of verses to be dedicated to his wife. This Fordham edition includes a new postscript by Hennig Cohen, as well as Professor Cohen's commentary on the poems.

Excerpt

The history of Herman Melville’s literary reputation is somewhat curious. His short-sighted contemporaries, unable or unwilling to penetrate the depths of his art and ideas, saw him merely as a writer who had attained an early success for the description of his adventures in the South Seas; who appeared to falter for the moment when he sought to be pretentious and philosophical; who seemed on the way toward recovery with several other autobiographical stories of the sea; and who then perversely went off the track again, writing novels sodden with allegory and metaphysics. Nothing much was heard of him thereafter except that he composed some rough verses about the Civil War and a poem longer than Paradise Lost having to do with a group of eccentric travelers in the Holy Land who talk too much about science and religion, faith and doubt, the fall of man, the degradation of democratic dogma, and similar unpleasant subjects.

It is inaccurate to say that Melville was ever either totally ignored or entirely misunderstood, but it was not until the 1920s that he began to be appreciated widely. Nor is it enough to observe that today his literary reputation is secure, for this fails to indicate the degree of respect with which literary critics regard his writing or the meaningfulness it has for readers whose interest is private rather than professional. The evidence is convincing on both sides. On the one hand, the flood tide of scholarship has all but engulfed us and shows no signs of ebbing. On the other, Melville is being absorbed into the texture of our total existence in the way, at once superficial and profound, that is so characteristic of mass culture.

There remains, however, a facet of Melville’s literary reputation that is still somewhat curious. A perceptive student of Melville, Willard Thorp, was sensitive to it when, in 1938, he raised the question: “What value can one put on Mel-

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