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Herman Melville (1819–1891) is best known as a novelist, particularly for his epic work "Moby-Dick," but his contributions to poetry are substantial and worthy of critical examination. Though much of his poetry was not widely recognized during his lifetime, it has since gained appreciation for its complexity and depth.

Melville's literary background is richly informed by his experiences at sea and his profound engagement with the philosophical and existential quandaries of the 19th century. His early novels drew from his maritime adventures, but his later work, including his poetry, reflects a darker, more introspective turn.

After the publication of "Moby-Dick" in 1851 and "Pierre" in 1852, both of which were commercial failures at the time, Melville's literary career entered a new phase. He turned increasingly to poetry, seeing it as a medium through which he could express his disillusionment with the world, his meditations on God and nature, and his response to the American Civil War.

Melville's poetic oeuvre includes several volumes of poetry. His first collection, "Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War" (1866), is a series of poems about the moral and historical aspects of the American Civil War, reflecting his complex views on America's bloodiest conflict. "Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land" (1876), his next significant poetic work, is a long, epic poem exploring faith and doubt among a group of pilgrims in the Middle East. This work is noted for its philosophical depth and is considered one of the longest poems in American literature.

The themes of Melville's poetry often center on questions of God, humanity, nature, and the cosmos, informed by his reading of Shakespeare, the Bible, and classical mythology, as well as his own inner turmoil and doubts. His style in poetry, as in his prose, was dense and allusive, often incorporating a range of cultural and historical references.

Melville's influence as a poet has grown since his death, with modern critics recognizing the sophistication of his verse and his visionary qualities. His later poems, collected posthumously in "Timoleon" (1891) and "Weeds and Wildings, and a Rose or Two" (1924), show a more personal and reflective aspect of his work, often neglected during his life.

Despite the relative obscurity of his poetry during his lifetime, Melville's literary stature has grown immensely over the centuries. While honors were few during his life, and his genius was not fully recognized, Melville is now considered one of America's greatest writers, and his works—both novels and poetry—are canonical texts, studied and admired for their profound insights into the human condition, their innovative use of language, and their deep engagement with the pressing issues of his time, many of which remain relevant today.

In conclusion, while Herman Melville is predominantly celebrated for his novels, his poetry represents a significant facet of his work that offers a window into his evolving philosophical and artistic concerns. It reflects the depth of his literary aspirations and his ongoing struggle to understand the human predicament, contributing to his enduring legacy as a central figure in the American literary canon.

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