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R A N D A L L C L U F F Melville’s Hand L E V I A T H A N 7 2 “MagianWine” and Melville’s Art of Revision DOUGLAS ROBILLARD University of New Haven, Emeritus eaders of Melville’spoetry are frequentlyleft with only the published version of a poem and so cannot see the steps by which the poet has arrived I at his final,printed work. However, there exist for “MagianWine” and for the other poems appearingwith it in Timoleon, Etc. some useful manuscript materialswhich add much to our understanding of thispoem and othersin the volume. The revisions of each poem alone are of great interest in and of themselves , but their deeper impact can be plumbed in conjunction with what Melville was attempting to do in assembling and arranging the entire book of poems. In each of his three published volumes of individual poems, Melville worked to impose an order upon each book so that, rather than being collections of vaned pieces that have no organizing principle, they work with each other to present a well-articulated volume. For example, the poems in Battle-Piecesand Aspects of the War (1866) are joined together by its obvious subject matter, the Civil War, but also by a chronological sequence that Melville imposed upon the volume, and by a thematic linkage resulting from the war matters or “aspectsof the war” that most concerned him. In his introductory note, Melville remarks that the poems “were composed without reference to collectivearrangement,but, being brought together in review, naturallyfell into the order assumed.”This is either an understatementof his poetic purposes or simplymisleading,and it fitswell with the further misleadingstatement in the introduction to the effect that the poet is ylelding “instinctively”to feelings and is “unmindful,without purposing to be, of consistency” It is much more likely that, as he composed the poems, he was well aware of the directions the large group was taking and went back deliberately to compose other poems which would help to fill out his pattern of development. And, likewise, he deliberately did not compose poems on topics that would have been equally appealing but did not advance his argument.That the aim of the tragic war was the restoration of the union that had been shatteredby rebellion and separation.The poems lead naturally fromthe violence ofJohn Brown’sactions and execution,to misgivings and conflictof “convictions”to scenes of battles and deaths, to a memorializing of the dead and a distancing from scenes of ravage and destruction at battle fields like Shiloh and Malvern Hill. These events are followed by destructivevictories by the North, the surrender of the Southern forces, the assassination of A J O U R N A L O F M E L V I L L E S T U D I E S 7 3 D O U G L A S R O B I L L A R D Lincoln,and a more general memorializingof the dead in commemorativepoems. The petition of General Robert E. Lee is made to the government that the North not “Proscribe?Prolongthe evilday?/Confirmthe curse?Infix the hate?”but show leniency in victory The prose “Supplement”which ends the volume calls for a national catharsis in the plea that the war “willnot have been enacted without instructing our whole beloved country through terror and pity” The poems inJohn Maw and Other Sailors (1888)also aim designedlyat a purpose of catharsis but a personal rather than a national one. John Marr, the sailor retired from the sea and marooned in the middle of the American continent , suffers a “void at heart” and must seek consolation through his own devices,mainly through “retrospectivemusings”upon his former companions at sea as well as upon other sailors, and through meditation upon the sea itself in its implacable power, heralded by its sharks, icebergs, storms, and shipwrecks. This, too, would seem to be an alien environment, a “placidsupreme” unreachableby man, but much of it is familiar in a way that life on land is not. The poetsailor findsan objective correlativein something as ordinary and plentiful as seaweed . In “The Tuft of Kelp” he addresses the weed...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1750-1849
Print ISSN
1525-6995
Pages
pp. 73-81
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-29
Open Access
No
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