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Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained

HERMAN MELVILLE, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography

"Herman Melville" is a poem written by Wystan Hugh Auden and was first published in his collection "Collected Shorter Poems, 1927-1957" in 1966. Auden was a prominent 20th-century English-American poet known for his wide-ranging subject matter and intellectual rigor.

Context:

The poem is a tribute to Herman Melville, the 19th-century American writer best known for his novel Moby-Dick. Melville was a complex and enigmatic figure, and Auden's poem seeks to explore the psychological depths of his character and work.

Content:

The poem begins with a description of Melville's life: "Towards the end he sailed into an extraordinary mildness." The lines suggest a sense of tranquility and calmness, as if Melville's life and work have reached a peaceful resolution.

As the poem progresses, the imagery becomes increasingly surreal and dreamlike: "He disappeared, and his novels / Persisted like the rumor of an enigma, / Something heard about others, / A conjunction of sounds / Leaving a sense of a story." The lines suggest a sense of mystery and depth, as if Melville's work is as vast and unknowable as the ocean.

The poem ends with a sense of reverence and admiration: "So that we take his books, and go aside / To the clear fountain in the garden, / Or the green hill in the mind, / And begin again to read." The lines suggest a sense of the enduring power and relevance of Melville's work.

Structure:

"Herman Melville" is composed of thirty-one lines divided into five stanzas. The poem has a free-verse structure, meaning that it does not follow a regular meter or rhyme scheme. The lack of a set structure contributes to the poem's sense of fragmentation and dislocation.

Rhyme:

The poem does not have a traditional rhyme scheme, but it does contain a few instances of internal rhyme and alliteration, such as "clear fountain in the garden" and "green hill in the mind."

Summary:

"Herman Melville" is a poignant and thought-provoking poem that explores the psychological depths of its subject. Auden's use of surreal imagery and free-verse structure serves to disrupt conventional ideas of form and meaning, and the poem ultimately invites the reader to engage in their own interpretation and analysis. The poem's themes of mystery, enigma, and the enduring power of literature are universal and resonate with readers on a deeply emotional level. Overall, "Herman Melville" is a masterful example of modernist poetry and showcases Auden's skill and innovation as a poet.

Poem Snippet:

Towards the end he sailed into an extraordinary mildness,

And embraced it as he had the storm:

But after a while a calm was all

Most men remembered of his existence.

He disappeared, and his novels

Persisted like the rumor of an enigma,

Something heard about others,

A conjunction of sounds

Leaving a sense of a story.


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