Bodhi Tree Bookstore - LA-7.jpg

A Late 20th – Early 21st Century Melville Revival?

Is a second Melville revival underway? In her fascinating study of the writers, artists, scholars, and editors who took part in the first Melville revival—Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival—Clare Spark uses the term “phase” when discussing the different types of critical and editorial work done from 1919 to 1953 to bring the forgotten and unknown Melville and his writings to light.1 Following Spark we might accurately and effectively describe the recent fast growing interest in Melville the poet and his poetry as yet another, late phase of the first Melville revival.

But many of the essays, books, and conference panels focusing on Melville and his poetry provide compelling evidence for radically redefining how we understand Melville’s life and work. Some Melville scholars now see Melville as a life-long poet who, for various reasons, chose to begin his career writing prose fiction, rather than as a prose fiction writer who, as a sort of after-thought, and in a state of despair, took to writing verse for the last three decades of his life. William C. Spengemann, in his 1999 essay, “Melville the Poet,” 2 works with the premise that poetry can in part be defined as what poets do and suggests that to understand and appreciate Melville’s poetry we need to reconsider or revise our understanding of Melville himself:

To think of [Melville’s] verse as poetry, we would first have to think of him as a poet, one like A. C. Swinburne or Thomas Hardy, who wrote some novels, rather than as a novelist, like William Makepeace Thackeray or George Meredith, who tried with indifferent success to write some poems. The received opinion of Melville’s poetry, in other words, may well have its primary cause not in the poetry itself but in the reigning conception of the thing called “Melville.”

So perhaps it would not be an exaggeration to call the acceleration of interest in Melville the poet and his poetry a second Melville revival. Because this second revival will likely modify in important, significant, and as yet unforeseen ways how we read and understand the prose masterpieces so prized and valued in the course of the first Melville revival, the second Melville revival may prove to be more profound and exciting than the first.

During the three decades immediately following Melville’s death in 1891, most of his writings lay unread, unappreciated, and largely unknown, not only because they were out of print or seldom written or talked about, but also because some—Billy Budd, Weeds and Wildings, The Burgundy Club—had never been transcribed or published in the first place. But he was not completely forgotten: a small group of admirers in both Britain and the United States continued to read him and recommend their favorite novels to others. In 1917, one of his American admirers, Carl Van Doren, published four chapters discussing Melville’s life and four of his novels, Typee, Omoo, Mardi, and Moby-Dick, in volume 15 of the Cambridge History of American Literature. And in 1924, D. H. Lawrence published a book of essays he had begun writing around August 1917, Studies in Classic American Literature, 3 containing two chapters on Typee, Omoo, and Moby-Dick. Looking back, critics, readers, biographers, scholars, and editors came to see the years 1917 to 1924 as the crucial beginning years of what later came to be known as the Melville revival.4

Following Van Doren, in 1919, Melville’s birth centennial, Raymond M. Weaver not only wrote an article about Melville for the New York Nation, he also introduced himself to Melville’s granddaughter, Eleanor Melville Metcalf, and, with her help, advice, and the access she provided to the bread box containing the manuscripts Melville left behind at his death, Weaver published the first major biographical study of Melville’s life and writings, Herman Melville: Mariner and Mystic (1921).5By the end of the decade John Freeman (1926) 6 and Lewis Mumford (1929) 7 had published two additional critical and biographical studies, both titled Herman Melville. The 1930 publication of the Lakeside Press Edition of Moby-Dick, illustrated by Rockwell Kent, might be seen as not only the culminating event of the first Melville revival, but as proof that Melville’s reputation and place among the greats of literary tradition was finally and forever secure.

Interest in Melville’s poetry is of course not new. In 1936 Charles Paul Hettinger wrote his A.M. thesis on the poetry, “Herman Melville’s Poetry.” 8 In 1956 Dan Vogel wrote his Ph.D. thesis—”Melville’s Shorter Published Poetry: A Critical Study of the Lyrics in Mardi, of Battle-Pieces, John Marr, and Timoleon“—on selected poems and three of the published volumes of poetry.9Between 1970 and 1972 William Bysshe Stein,10 Aaron Kramer,11 and William Shurr 12 published book-length studies of the poetry. Marian Conner’s 1979 Ph.D. dissertation—”The Abysm and the Star: A Study of the Poetry of Herman Melville”—focused on the poetry.13 From the late 1970s until the early years of this century, there was a lull in the publication of book-length studies, however during that same period, critics and editors interested in Melville’s poems continued to publish essays, articles, book reviews, and notes related to Melville’s verse writings.14

If we do come to refer to the recent growth of interest in Melville’s poetry as a second Melville revival, we might see it as having begun with the 1991 publication of the Northwestern-Newberry standard critical edition of Clarel. Since the 1991 publication of Clarel, critics, readers, editors, and Melville scholars have published many important essays, articles, chapters, and books with substantive and sustained close readings and analyses of individual poems and series of poems contained in the four volumes of poetry he was able to publish before his death in 1891. More close readings, biographical and literary source studies, as well as historical and literary context analyses are needed to bring out the unique qualities of not only the poems in the four volumes of verse Melville published during his lifetime–Battle-Pieces, Clarel, John Marr and Other Sailors, and Timoleon—but also the poems and prose-and-verse pieces contained in the two volumes of poetry and prose-and-verse pieces—Weeds and Wildings, Chiefly; With a Rose or Two and The Burgundy Club—that he left lying among the other manuscripts he was still working on in the final months of his life.

A brief summary of some of the important critical and editorial work published since the turn of the century may suggest what types of critical and editorial work on Melville’s poetry we might expect to see in the coming decades. In 1999, 2002, and 2006, the ALA hosted three panels—”Melville as Poet,” “Why is Melville a Good Poet,” and “Who Speaks in Melville’s Poems”—that discussed and analyzed not only the poetry but also the need to see Melville as someone who concentrated on writing and publishing poetry for more than three times the eleven years he spent writing prose fiction. John Bryant’s 2002 anthology, Tales, Poems, and Other Writings, includes much of the poetry, including a section on Melville’s prose-and-verse writings: “John Marr,” “Rammon,” “Rip Van Winkle’s Lilac,” “Under the Rose,” Billy Budd, and The Burgundy Club.  In 2006 Douglas Robillard published a facsimile edition of John Marr and Other Sailors. Large sections of two other books published in 2006, Robert Milder’s Exiled Royalties and Timothy Marr’s The Cultural Roots of American Islamicism, give extended discussions of Melville’s poetry. Brian Yother’s The Romance of American Travel Writing published in 2007 contains a 12,000 word chapter devoted to Clarel. The entire October 2007 issue of Leviathan, “Melville the Poet,” was devoted to Melville’s poetry. In 2007, preeminent Melville scholar and biographer, Hershel Parker, published Melville: The Making of the Poet, a detailed analysis and discussion of Melville’s life-long involvement with poetry and books about poetry and poets. And, most recently, Wyn Kelley devoted two chapters of Herman Melville: An Introduction to the poetry, one on Battle-Pieces and Clarel, the other on the volumes of poems Melville published or was preparing to publish during the last three or four years of his life.

Readers, critics, and scholars interested in Melville’s poetry have been waiting decades for standard critical editions. The increasing number of anthologized poems and selections of poems have no doubt raised hopes that these standard, critical editions may finally be at hand. Much as the revival of Melville’s prose was confirmed by the publication of the sixteen volume Constable edition,15 the burgeoning interest in and revival of attention to Melville’s poetry will likely soon be confirmed by the availability of standard, critical editions of his poetry. The Northwestern University Press’s recent August 2008 reprinting of the 1991 Northwestern-Newberry edition of Clarel, with a new forward by Hershel Parker, will likely heighten the already intense interest in the forthcoming publication of the final two Northwestern-Newberry volumes that will contain, respectively, Melville’s published and unpublished poems.

The Northwestern-Newberry “published poems” volume that will contain three of the four volumes of verse Melville published during his lifetime is the next volume scheduled for publication (as noted above, the Northwestern-Newberry Clarel has already been published as a separate volume). The editors of the Northwestern-Newberry edition expect that that within another two years after the publication of the Published Poems volume, the final volume, Billy Budd, Sailor, and Other Late Manuscripts, will follow. That final volume will contain a slightly corrected version of the Hayford-Sealts text of Billy Budd—one benefiting from a fresh conservation of the manuscript—and texts of all the other uncompleted projects such as the near-final Weeds and Wildings and the early poems and latish prose pieces of The Burgundy Club that Melville tried, repeatedly, to get into shape for publication.

The second Melville revival will be completely congruent with the first if the publication of an illustrated edition of one of the poetry volumes—comparable to the 1930 Lakeside Edition of Moby-Dick illustrated by Rockwell Kent—would coincide with or follow soon after the publication of the final volume of the Northwestern-Newberry Series of the Writings of Herman Melville. Surely an artist fit to rank with Rockwell Kent, Gustave Doré, Maurice Sendak, Arthur Rackham, Howard Pyle, or Edward Gorey will someday be inspired to illustrate one or more volumes of the poetry of Herman Melville.


1 Clare Spark, Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2001).

2 William C. Spengemann, “Melville the Poet,” American Literary History 11.4 (1999): 571-609.

3 D. H. Lawrence,  Studies in Classic American Literature (The Cambridge Edition of the Letters and Works of D.H. Lawrence. Eds. Ezra Greenspan, Lindeth Vasey, John Worthen. Cambridge, U.K.; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003) xiv, xxiii, xxx.

4 There are many accounts, summaries, and discussions of the “Melville Revival.” One of most useful is Watson G. Branch’s summary comprising section IX of the introduction to his Melville, the Critical Heritage (The Critical Heritage Series. London; Boston: Routledge, 1974).

5 Raymond M. Weaver, Herman Melville, Mariner and Mystic (New York: George H. Doran, 1921).

6 John Freeman, Herman Melville (English Men of Letters. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1926).

7 Lewis Mumford. Herman Melville (New York, Harcourt, Brace, 1929).

8Charles Paul Hettinger, Herman Melville’s Poetry (Durham, N.C., 1936. Thesis (A.M.) Duke University, 1937, 1936).

9 Dan Vogel, “Melville’s Shorter Published Poetry: A Critical Study of the Lyrics in Mardi, of Battle-Pieces, John Marr, and Timoleon” (Ph.D. Dissertation. New York University, 1956).

10 William Bysshe Stein, The Poetry of Melville’s Late Years Time, History, Myth, and Religion (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1970).

11 Aaron Kramer, Melville’s Poetry: Toward the Enlarged Heart; a Thematic Study of Three Ignored Major Poems (Rutherford, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1972).

12 William H. Shurr,The Mystery of Iniquity: Melville as Poet, 1857-1891 (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1972).

13 Marian Connor, “The Abysm and the Star A Study of the Poetry of Herman Melville” (Thesis (Ph. D.) Boston University, 1977).

14 See the bibliographies on this site for complete listings through August 2008—organized by author as well as year.

15 Herman Melville,The Works of Herman Melville, ed. Michael Sadleir (London: Constable, 1922-1924).

Share

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Calendar
June 2018
M T W T F S S
« Oct    
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
252627282930  
Archives
Politics, Culture, Philosophy
  • Rachel Maddow
  • Frank Schaeffer
  • Roberto Ruiz

This Week in God, 6.23.18As if Attorney General Jeff Sessions weren't dealing with enough troubles, he's now being [...]

Soboroff border special to air Sunday at 7pm on NBCJacob Soboroff, MSNBC correspondent, talks about his reporting from the border this week and his hou [...]

Odd Russian behavior in U.S. seen as part of 2016 active measuresMichael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, talks about how Russian spy operations against the [...]

HHS Sec Azar photographed at reunion as border crisis boiled overRachel Maddow Show reporting that as his agency constructed "tent city" facilities to hand [...]

Michael Cohen sends mixed signals as case reaches turning pointEmily Jane Fox, senior reporter for Vanity Fair, talks about the pressures facing Donald Trump confi [...]

Trump foments border policy outrage in cynical political ployMichael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian, discusses how Donald Trump's fomenting of a [...]

Trump admin struggles to repair migrant families it shatteredEfren Olivares, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project Racial and Economic Justice Program, talk [...]

Friday's Mini-Report, 6.22.18Today's edition of quick hits. [...]

Rachel Maddow 6/22/18Watch the full episode of Friday night's The Rachel Maddow Show. [...]

Those who have Trump's ear tend to look a lot like himWhen Trump sought the perspective of people he considered important in the immigration debate, they [...]

 Vote Common Good Bus Tour, Sept. 6 – Nov. 6. Learn More. How do we make our way back into love, be [...]

I would ask Trump’s evangelical supporters, Was it ever about the children, or was it only about whi [...]

This new leg of my Road Trip took me to the beautiful mountain hamlet of Ouray, Colorado to speak at [...]

If Republicans let Trump roll them by using innocent children as hostages, he will learn the lesson [...]

ICYMI, I appeared this morning on AM Joy on MSNBC with Bishop William Barber and Bishop Michael Curr [...]

If you’ve been following this new leg of my Road Trip, you know I recently travelled to the beautifu [...]

As you may know, I recently spoke at San Juans Summit, a gathering put together by Common Good Chris [...]

I recently spoke at San Juans Summit, a gathering of progressive Christians who want to take back th [...]

If you saw my most recent video, you already know that my good friend Samir Selmanović, the Executiv [...]

Please spend a few minutes to get to know my friend Samir Selmanović. Samir is the Executive Directo [...]

The Philosophy of Christopher NolanEver since I first watched Memento and its fascinating exploration of the philosophical question of [...]

Voltaire - CandideThe philosophical problem of evil—the question of how the existence of unnecessary suffering is poss [...]

Arrow - A Celebration of LoveLife is hard enough as it is. Existence, in many ways, is suffering. Obviously, some have it much wo [...]

If 'Despacito' Were Written by an Evo-Devo BiologistIf you are a geek, you are likely to get excited over things others might find boring, laughable, la [...]

James Baldwin Debates William F. BuckleyJames Baldwin, the great essayist, poet, civil rights activist, writer and orator, would have turned [...]

Genius of the Ancient World - SocratesFew figures have been more important and influential in the history of civilization than the ancient [...]

The PresocraticsAnyone who's ever contemplated Raphael's celebrated painting The School of Athens knows th [...]

President Obama's Farewell AddressAs his presidency sadly comes to an end, President Obama delivered last night what is sure to become [...]

John Berger - Ways of SeeingArt critic John Berger's recent death has left a huge void in the world of art appreciation. Wh [...]

Some Thoughts and Feelings on the Aftermath of the ElectionWhen I saw that anger, hate and bigotry were going to win two nights ago, I had to unplug for a whil [...]

Right Living, Thinking, Etc
  • Two Truths News
  • Natural Living-Healthy Planet

Each Friday, we share three topical longreads in our Weekend Reader newsletter. This week, Lion [...]

Michael Carroll, author of Fearless at Work, gives step-by-step advice on how to deal with a toxic w [...]

By practicing the famous mind training slogans, you can bring profound Buddhist wisdom into your day [...]

Lama Tsutrim Allione teaches you an innovative technique, based on the Tibetan Buddhist principles o [...]

Caring for people who are suffering is a loving, even heroic calling, but it takes a toll. Roshi Joa [...]

The past week has seen an upwelling of outcry from Buddhist communities. The post How Buddhists are [...]

Lindsay Kyte explores East Bay Meditation Center’s focus on respect, safety, and the joy of being se [...]

"It is the kindness of the buddhas to provide us with a complete path, and the preliminary prac [...]

Zen priest Liên Shutt teaches a short meditation to foster compassion for beings in search of refuge [...]

Without compassion, everyone is worse off. Zen teacher Roshi Joan Halifax comments on the Trump admi [...]

(Natural News) By now, everybody knows that TIME Magazine’s “screaming migrant girl” cover photo is [...]

(Natural News) Earlier this week one of the establishment media’s oldest purveyors of fake news and [...]

(Natural News) Women are advised not to take ibuprofen during the first six months of pregnancy. Doi [...]

(Natural News) A well-written story can be compelling, regardless of the form it takes. A good book [...]

(Natural News) Vanillic acid is a polyphenol that, in recent years, has become known for its impress [...]

(Natural News) Various charities and organizations around the world often use different methods of r [...]

(Natural News) When it comes to prepping, it’s important to strike a balance between being disciplin [...]

(Natural News) Studies have been conducted on the effects of fracking on bodies of freshwater, parti [...]

(Natural News) Following a diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables is good for your overall health. [...]

Science News
  • The Universe Today
  • Perimeter Institute
  • Science Daily
  • Sky and Telescope

According to a new study from Johns Hopkins University, Mars' Medusa Fossae region was created [...]

According to a new study by three famed scientists, the Fermi Paradox may have a simple resolution - [...]

In a new study, an astrophysicist proposed how an advanced civilization might survive the inevitable [...]

Hosts: Fraser Cain (universetoday.com / @fcain) Dr. Paul M. Sutter (pmsutter.com / @PaulMattSutter) [...]

A team of international scientists recently conducted a study that indicates that cyanobacteria can [...]

According to a new study from Brown University, it appears Ceres has more organic molecules on its s [...]

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) recently captured an image of an impact crater on Mars that tr [...]

Physicist Dr. Sean Raymond recently created a hypothetical system where 550 planets and 9 Suns orbit [...]

In a series of new studies, a pair of French researchers tackle the question of how many people woul [...]

In a new study, astrophysicist Hector Socas-Navarro proposes searching for aliens by looking for sig [...]

From learners to creators: Perimeter’s ninth PSI class graduates Wednesday Jun 20, 2018Class of 30 s [...]

Elizabeth Gould earns W.B. Pearson MedalTuesday Jun 19, 2018Perimeter PhD graduate earns top honours [...]

Eleven Perimeter researchers awarded NSERC Discovery GrantsTuesday Jun 19, 2018A record number of Pe [...]

Perimeter Outreach builds Californian connectionsTuesday Jun 12, 2018Perimeter’s Educational Outreac [...]

Perimeter scoops four awards at CCAE Prix d’ExcellenceThursday Jun 07, 2018Perimeter lauded at natio [...]

New centre for astroparticle physics launches in CanadaThursday May 10, 2018Perimeter Institute is a [...]

Perimeter researcher elected to Royal SocietyWednesday May 09, 2018Mathematical physicist Kevin Cost [...]

THREE NEW APPOINTMENTS BOLSTER MATHEMATICS, COSMOLOGY AT PERIMETERMonday Apr 09, 2018Cosmologist Wil [...]

EMMY NOETHER FELLOWSHIPS TO EXPAND, SIX NEW FELLOWS ANNOUNCEDWednesday Mar 21, 2018Perimeter’s flags [...]

Perimeter Institute mourns the passing of friend and colleague Stephen HawkingWednesday Mar 14, 2018 [...]

'Stealth' material hides hot objects from infrared eyesInfrared cameras are the heat-sensing eyes that help drones find their targets even in the dead of n [...]

Accurate measurements of sodium intake confirm relationship with mortalityEating foods high in salt is known to contribute to high blood pressure, but does that linear relati [...]

Our intestinal microbiome influences metabolism -- through the immune systemThe innate immune system, our first line of defense against bacterial infection, has a side job that [...]

US oil & gas methane emissions 60 percent higher than estimatedThe US oil and gas industry emits 13 million metric tons of the potent greenhouse gas methane from i [...]

Antarctic ice sheet is melting, but rising bedrock below could slow it downAn international team of researchers has found that the bedrock below the remote West Antarctic Ice [...]

Psychiatric disorders share an underlying genetic basisResearchers explored the genetic connections between brain disorders at a scale far eclipsing previo [...]

Einstein proved right in another galaxyAstronomers have made the most precise test of gravity outside our own solar system. By combining da [...]

A mechanism behind choosing alcohol over healthy rewards is foundChanges in a brain signalling system contribute to the development of alcohol addiction-like behavio [...]

Caffeine from four cups of coffee protects the heart with the help of mitochondriaA new study shows that a caffeine concentration equivalent to four cups of coffee promotes the movem [...]

Nearly 80 exoplanet candidates identified in record timeScientists have analyzed data from K2, the follow-up mission to NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, [...]

Scientists have discovered that a supervolcano likely created a mysterious rock formation on Mars so [...]

The dust storm on Mars that broke out at the end of May is now affecting the skies across the entire [...]

Will Mars soon be hidden under a veil of dust? Let's hope not. We explore the current storm and [...]

  Friday, June 22 • The waxing gibbous Moon this evening shines with bright Jupiter to its lower lef [...]

A recent experiment to better understand the nature of dark matter constrains a possible "fifth [...]

The post Main-Belt Comet 133P/(7968) Elst-Pizarro appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

If you like sunrises and sunsets, look for the green flash, a phenomenon that happens more often tha [...]

The post Draco Galaxy Trio appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

The post The Moon heart appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

Summer star party season has begun - grab your scope or binoculars, pack a sleeping bag, and come an [...]