Herman Melville is best known for his famous works Moby Dick and Billy Budd, but he also made serious contributions to the poetic cannon of the 19th century. He was a part of the American Renaissance, an age of renewed passion for art and the philosophical implications of artistic expression. Relatively unrecognized for his poetry, Melville was no joke. He is counted in skill with such legends as Whitman and Dickinson. A gifted writer in all respects, Melville has a great capacity to express complex emotions as they relate to the human experience. His characters serve specific roles in their respective works, but they are not by any means one-dimensional. They interact with the broad spectrum of human experience.
"After the Pleasure Party" is a poem about desire and shame. Through the experience of a man struggling with sexual temptation, Melville relates how the mind deals with rejection. This is a conversational poem, the dialogue occurring between the main character, the man, and the virgin who is the object of his desire. Over the course of a night, they engage in a type of mental dance as he steps toward her and she steps back. The poem serves to express how desire is the enemy of peace. If one can gain control of desire, he will be happier. If however, he can cease to desire at all, he will attain perfect peace in a state of transcendence. This concept is one traditionally rooted in eastern mysticism. While Melville was at sea, doubtless he encountered plenty of Asian sailors from whom he learned. This eastern influence is not overt in his writing, but the philosophical concepts are nearly identical.