The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 13 November 2018


by Herman Melville

Late in his life, decades after his largest works of fiction had gone underappreciated by the literary establishment, Herman Melville, like so many of his contemporaries, dabbled in poetry. This volume, published in the year of his death, 1891, compiles poems written over many years. In them, the author of one of the greatest works of American fiction, Moby Dick (which went uncelebrated until decades later), expresses his view on art, beauty, ancient landmarks of architecture and literature, and a spiritual element that belies some of the material immediacy of his earlier work. He writes here of ancient figures of fiction and history, crumbling buildings and arid landscapes. Theres a note of mythology and a call to Buddha, odes to the Parthenon and leaning tower of Pisa, small adventures in lost Greek and Roman civilizations. Throughout, though, the theme seems to be a melancholy appreciation of beauty and metaphorical notions of the author's own sense of his place in the literary world. One supposes him rather disappointed as his massive epic masterpiece lay virtually forgotten. This was the last year of his life, and a sense of loss and denoument isn't surprising in this slender volume. There are notes of beauty and emotion here, though Melville's final work published in his lifetime may place merely a curiosity in the long shadow of his great fiction.

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Also by Melville: [White Jacket]

[Other Poetry]