Herman Melville: Poems Background

Herman Melville: Poems Background

The Piazza Tales were published by Herman Melville between 1853 and 1856. A short novel titled Israel Potter appeared in 1855 and two years later was followed by what would prove to be the last novel published while Melville was still living. Moby-Dick appeared to be already have been forgotten with its future as one of the truly viable candidates for Great American Novel the stuff of pure fantasy for an increasingly morose and criminally underappreciated Melville. With his future as a novelist looking dead and buried, Melville turned his artistic soul to poetry.

The result was some of the most remarkable poetry inspired by the Civil War to be produced while the specter of its darkness still loomed over the country. The 1866 publication of Battle Pieces proved that Melville’s extraordinary gifts as a computer of verse could be just as easily overlooked by so-called “experts” as his gifts at writing prose. Not only was Melville’s Civil War poetry ignored by scholars and academics during his lifetime, but even in the wake of his rediscovery in the 20th century, Moby-Dick seemed capable of swallowing every last bit of attention that could have gone into exploring Melville’s rightful place among the best of the Civil War poetic chroniclers.

The nation’s centennial saw the publication of Clarel which was a self-published collection of verse inspired by Melville’s trek to the Holy Land. The primary posthumous publication of Melville’s—the classic novella Billy Budd---features extensive incorporation of poetry that previously appeared in two other self-published collections, 1888’s John Marr and Other Sailors and Timoleon, published two years later.

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