I look forward to unpacking and reflecting on this passage from Henry James’s The American:
His smile went through two or three curious phases. It felt, apparently, a momentary impulse to broaden; but this it immediately checked. Then it remained for some instants taking counsel with itself, at the end of which it decreed a retreat. It slowly effaced itself and left a look of seriousness modified by the desire not to be rude.
Herman Melville read and studied the poetry of the great romantics. And so he likely had read, at least once, John Keats’s sonnet, “When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be.”
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charact’ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And feel that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love;—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think,
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.
Compare Keats’s sonnet with these lines of verse that conclude Melville’s prose-and-verse piece, “Rip Van Winkle’s Lilac.” Keats, young; Melville, elderly; both writing in verse to express their hope for posthumous literary fame and glory. Neither knew wide-spread fame while alive, but because of the few friends and family who did understand and appreciate their work, they each flourished creatively.
That neighbors, unconcerned before
When bloomed the tree by lowly door,
Craved now one little slip to train;
Neighbor from neighbor begged again.
On every hand stem shot from slip,
Till, that region now is dowered
Like the first Paradise embowered,
Thanks to poor, good-for-nothing Rip!
Some think those parts should bear his name;
But, no, — the blossoms take the fame.
Slant finger-posts by horsemen scanned
Point the green miles–To Lilac Land.
Go ride-there down one charmful lane,
O reader mine, when June’s at best,
A dream of Rip shall slack the rein,
For there his heart flowers out confessed.
And there you’ll say,–O, hard ones, truce!
See, where man finds in man no use,
Boon Nature finds one–Heaven be blest!
A. Robert Lee
has just published another volume of poetry:
Imaginarium: Sightings, Galleries, Sightlines
This is his latest collection of poetry and is published by 2Leaf Press.
From the publisher’s website:
The term “imaginarium” refers to a “place” devoted to stimulating and cultivating the imagination, towards scientific, artistic, commercial, recreational, or a spiritual end. In this collection, Lee explores two connecting keynotes: imagination and sight that explores the way we go about imagining as much as seeing reality. Lee goes about this using an ekphrastic approach by commemorating a dozen or so celebrated visual artists and their works, among them J.M.W. Turner and Frida Kahlo. He extends the usual meaning of the term to include vantage-points like a French archeological cave, and then expertly frames a run of personal encounters within the heights and widths of buildings and landscapes.
To learn more about Lee’s new poetry volume, click here to visit the 2Leaf Press website.
This is A. Robert Lee’s third recent volume of published poetry. For more about the other two recent volumes – Ars Geographica and Portrait and Landscape – published by Printed Matter Press, click here.