Melville: The Making of the Poet

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Northwestern University Press, 2008 - 238 pages

“Who would have looked for philosophy in whales, or for poetry in blubber?” the London John Bull remarked in October of 1851. And yet, the reviewer went on, “few books which professedly deal in metaphysics, or claim the parentage of the muses, contain as much true philosophy and as much genuine poetry as the tale of the Pequod's whaling expedition.” A decade and a half before surprising the world with a book of Civil war poetry, Melville was already confident of what was “poetic” in his prose. As Hershel Parker demonstrates in this book, Melville was steeped in poetry long before he called himself a poet.

Here Parker, the dean of Melville studies, gives a compelling, in-depth account of how one of America’s greatest writers grew into the vocation of a poet. His work corrects two of the most pernicious misconceptions about Melville perpetuated by earlier critics: that he repudiated fiction writing after Pierre, and that he hadn’t begun writing poetry (let alone had a book of poems ready for publication) as early as 1860. In clearing up these misapprehensions, Parker gives a thorough and thoroughly involving account of Melville’s development as a poet. Parker demonstrates for the first time just how crucial poetry was to Melville from childhood to old age, especially its re-emergence in his life after 1849. Drawing on Melville's shrewd annotations of great British poets and on his probing, skeptical engagement with commentaries on poetry (particularly by the great Scots reviewers), Parker paints a richly textured portrait of a hitherto unseen side of Herman Melville.


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Melville: the making of the poet

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No less a literary critic than Alfred Kazin once said of Herman Melville's experiments with poetry, "Poetry was just a sideline with Melville; it was never important to him, and he was never good at ... Read full review


Melvilles Lost Books and the Trajectory of His Career as Poet
How Critics Prepared Melville to Think of Himself as a Poet
Melville as Hearer and Reciter of Poetry
The Omnipresence of Poetry 1820s1848
The Renewed Power of Poetry in Melvilles Life 18491856
The Status of Poetry and the Temptation of Flunkeyism
A Nonpartisan Becoming a Poet During the Risorgimento
Melvilles Progress as Poet 1857? to May 1860
Melvill When He Thought He Was a Published Poet
His Verse Stil Unpublished Melville Defines Himself as Poet 18611862
Melvilles Second Volume of Poems
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Possible Contents of Poems 1860

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About the author (2008)

Hershel Parker, H. Fletcher Brown Professor Emeritus at the University of Delaware, is the associate general editor of the Northwestern-Newberry The Writings of Herman Melville. His publications include Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons, Reading "Billy Budd”, and the 1995 edition of Melville's Pierre, or, The Ambiguities, illustrated by Maurice Sendak. He is also the author of the two-volume Herman Melville: A Biography, 1819-1851 (1996) and Herman Melville: A Biography, 1851-1891 (2002), the first a Pulitzer finalist and each the winner of the highest award from the Association of American Publishers' Professional/Scholarly Publishing Division.

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