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“Tears of the Happy”: The Design of Darkness in “To Winnefred” and “The Year” LYON EVANS Viterbo University W hen Herman Melville died at age 72, on September 28, 1891, he left in manuscript Weeds and Wildings Chiefly: with a Rose or Two, a volume of poems consisting of a dedicatory prose preface titled “To Winnefred”; “Part I: The Year,” seventeen short poems commemorating a year in the country from spring to winter; “Part II: This, That and the Other,” eight lyrics about nature and plant life; “Part III: Rip Van Winkle’s Lilac,” a combined prose and verse sketch; and, at the end, “A Rose or Two,” eleven poems about roses.1 While the rose poems have gained scholarly attention in recent years, “To Winnefred” and poems in “The Year” have not.2 These apparently artless and humble pieces have been of interest, principally to Melville’s biographers, for the light they shed on Melville’s outlook and temperament in his last years. In “To Winnefred,” Melville recalls finding a four-leaf clover on his wedding day, 44 years earlier; evokes fond memories of Arrowhead, a farm near Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where he lived with his family from 1850 to 1863; offers Winnefred—presumably, his wife Elizabeth—the accompanying poems as a heartfelt gift; and discloses that the poems express a “melting,” sentimental mood. Most of the poems in “The Year” are similarly nostalgic and bucolic. After a lifetime of turmoil and defiance, scholars have concluded, Melville had mellowed in his old age, becoming reconciled, as well, with his long-suffering wife. The affection for Elizabeth registered in Weeds and Wildings is all the more noteworthy, given the Melvilles’ turbulent marital history: Family rumors C  2007 The Authors Journal compilation C  2007 The Melville Society and Blackwell Publishing Inc 1 First published in the Constable edition of Melville’s complete works (1924), Weeds and Wildings was reprinted in Howard P. Vincent’s Collected Poems of Herman Melville (1947). Inaccuracies in Vincent’s edition are corrected by Robert C. Ryan, Weeds and Wildings Chiefly: with a Rose or Two, by Herman Melville: Reading Text and Genetic Text. Ph.D. dissertation, Northwestern University, 1967. Textual citations in this essay are to Ryan’s dissertation. 2 Notably John Bryant, “Melville’s Rose Poems: As They Fell.” Arizona Quarterly 52.4 (Winter 1996): 49-84. L E V I A T H A N 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 79 L Y O N E V A N S of discord between Herman and Elizabeth were known to scholars for decades. Then came the discovery, in the 1970s, of two 1867 letters disclosing that Lizzie, reportedly believing her husband to be “insane,” considered separating from him using the pretext that her family forced her to leave.3 Although the plan was not carried out, here was proof of a crisis in the Melville marriage— four months before the tragic suicide of their 18-year-old son, Malcolm. The marital discord, scholars have concluded, must have eventually subsided. If it had not, why would Melville in his final years have written the heartfelt Weeds and Wildings? Thus, Hennig Cohen and Donald Yannella, in Melville’s Malcolm Letter: Man’s Final Lore, contrast the “estrange[ment]” of Herman and Elizebeth “in the months before Malcolm died” with Weeds and Wildings, “a gift to Lizzie,” written “in the quiet autumn of his life.” The couple’s “love and loss of [Malcolm] in time restored them to each other and gradually led Melville to a different view of family affection and duty.”4 In Melville: A Biography, Laurie Robertson-Lorant calls Weeds and Wildings “a bouquet of poetry for Lizzie” and contends that Elizabeth became Melville’s “Muse” in his last years. “Playing the courtier,” she observes, “made Melville feel young again, and cemented Lizzie’s devotion to the husband she had once wanted to divorce.”5 In Melville: A Biography, Hershel Parker concludes that Weeds and Wildings, together with the companion “rose” poems, “portray[s] a man content. . . to celebrate spousal love in old age.”6 This...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1750-1849
Print ISSN
1525-6995
Pages
pp. 79-94
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-29
Open Access
No
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