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JOHN BRYANT Melville's Rose Poems: As They Fell [O OME years ago, I found myself drawn to Melville's poems in O manuscript and, in particular, the set of Rose Poems he left unpublished at his death. Bundled with these papers is a singular sheet, a heavily revised list of these poems that Melville jotted to himself as he tentatively contemplated some kind of Table of Contents. The manuscript leafon which these jottings appear provides a rare opportunity to observe the workings of a creative mind. Generally speaking, we can only infer the logic writers use in ordering their poems by speculating upon their final printed order. Melville's list, however, shows us the prior orderings he considered and rejected, and by tracing the various stages of thought from one list to the next, we can gain a fuller understanding of the poet's thinking. The problem with this approach is that the shuffled and reshuffled poems themselves might be reduced to their titles only to be treated like markers on a checkerboard, and the obvious drawback is that one might lose sight ofthe fact that a poem's meaning will vary depending upon its placement in a collection even though the words themselves may not change. This is particularly true of Melville 's Rose Poems which, although tightly composed and purposefully ordered in their "final" presentation, were revised and repositioned up to Melville's last days. Because we find these poems in manuscript, we must take them not as reified counters on a shifting table of contents, but as pulsing fluidities: alive because they were never finally placed, never really finished. Added to this problem of the poems' "positional meanings" was the problem of contextualizing the event of their creation and perpetual Arizona Quarterly Volume 52, Number 4, Winter 1996 Copyright © 1996 by Arizona Board of Regents issN 0004- 1 6 1 o 50John Bryant revision. At first I saw these materials merely as evidence of a poet tinkering with words, and there is no doubt of this fundamental fact. Words are at times merely movable things. But 1 quickly recognized, too, that here was an artist in love with his wife, in love with sexuality, in love with a tradition of ideas reaching back to the twelfth century, in love, too, with his lost son Malcolm. All of these factors contribute to every move Melville considered in the creation and arrangement ofhis Rose Poems. But to "get" all this, I had to write a story.] PRELUDE It was after eight, and Melville was at his morning tea. Downstairs at the parlor window facing Twenty-sixth Street, he could hear rumblings of Lizzie upstairs, setting their bedclothes in order. Tea steam fogged his glasses, and he pushed them up on his brow to rub sleep from his eyes. His back had a pinch somewhere; liver spots had become old friends; he walked with a cane; and erysipelas had left him fevered, exhausted, and annoyed by rash. He had to hurry. The dead were all around him; he could not fail to get the hint. Helen, his only older sister, had died two years ago; and who in the family was left? Gansevoort was long dead; Augusta, Allan, Frances, and captain Tom—all younger brothers and sisters—were dead. Only Catherine and himself remained. The sweetest of all, his son Malcolm, was dead, and Stanwix, too. No one should live to see so many children in their graves. Pain is the price of longevity, but the reward of long life is in the waiting for deliverance. Lizzie knew this silent anticipation and had expressed it in her patience beyond any deep understanding of his art and anxiety, in her endurance of those hardest years, in her love. Lizzie would live forever. A wardrobe clumped shut twice upstairs, and Herman tugged his beard. Long and square and gray, it extended down to his chest. Beards were no longer the fashion, as they were in the 1840s when he first let his grow. As if to accentuate his antiquity; he now let his beard grow longer than most. He recollected his father's father, Major Melvill, a member of the Boston...


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