poetry

spent the last thirty-five years of his life writing poetry

Although he had attempted to make his living exclusively from his writing since the publication of TYPEE, he was constantly struggling against poverty and debt, and increasingly against failing physical and mental health as well. […] Family life for the Melvilles was often tense and unhappy. By 1867, his wife and some of the family on both sides were convinced Melville was insane; that year, Elizabeth’s minister suggested a plan to remove her from the home and thus get her away from her husband, and the eldest child committed suicide at age eighteen.
Meanwhile, Melville had given up fiction and turned to publishing poetry…

From Elizabeth Renker’s introduction to the 1998 Signet Classic of Moby-Dick. Apart from my usual morbid interest in the deteriorating households of writers, this is the second time I’ve run across Melville’s poetry this year. I found this earlier in the semester, in the Concise Encyclopedia Of English & American Poets & Poetry, Donald Hall and Stephen Spender, eds., (1961):

MELVILLE, Herman (1819-91), the author of Moby-Dick, spent the last thirty-five years of his life writing poetry. His Collected Poems show qualities which remind one of Emily Dickinson, and Clarel is a kind of nineteenth-century Waste Land written, unfortunately, in Hudibrastics*.
* iambic tetrameter, rhymed AA BB CC DD, etc. After Samuel Butler’s Hudibras.

Interesting, eh? Here’s what Renker says about it:

His first two published volumes, BATTLE-PIECES AND ASPECTS OF THE WAR (1866) and CLAREL (1876) were both grandly ambitious. BATTLE-PIECES was a poetic record of the Civil War and CLAREL an epic account of a pilgrimage through the Holy Land. Both failed with the public.

MOBY-DICK was published in 1851. It is hard to imagine how someone who was capable of writing this novel could have written anything but a good epic poem, even in Hudibrastics. I’m going to find out, just as soon as I finish all the other things I’m supposed to be doing.

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