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R E V I E W ROBERT C. RYAN, HARRISON HAYFORD, ALMA MacDOUGALL REISING, AND G. THOMAS TANSELLE, eds. Published Poems Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern UP and The Newberry Library, 2009. xiii; 940 pages. T here is an idea that still lingers, even among some Melville scholars, that he was a prose artist, one of the best, but not much of a poet. As late as 1997, Alfred Kazin, in a forum on Melville in New York, opined that “poetry was just a sideline with Melville, it was never important to him, and he was never good at it” (qtd. in Parker, Making of the Poet [Northwestern UP] 8). Well, in 2000, Elizabeth Renker cannily foresaw that critical attitudes towards Melville’s poetry were changing radically: “I contend that a sea change in the reception of the poems is incipient. In fact, I believe that a revival of Melville’s poetry will begin within the next 10 years” (Renker, “Melville the Poet,” ALH 12.1-2: 348). In that same year, Douglas Robillard, in an introduction to his important edition of Melville’s poems, drew our attention to Melville’s poetic labors and to the painstaking philological labor of textual critics necessary for a fuller understanding of his work. Robillard writes, “In Melville’s poetic workshop, everything is tried—the words, like pieces of metal or adamant, put into place, tested, and then kept or rejected in favor of better words. Concision is sought, and anything that seems less than a final line is cancelled. A stubborn integrity informs all of this writing down, this rethinking, this canceling and reviewing, this craftsmanship. To imagine for a moment that Melville had given up writing for a larger audience, whatever that was, and wrote only for a select company of family and friends, is to mistake his conception of the writer’s responsibilities, perils, and rewards” (Poems [Kent State UP] 47). Robillard edited a fine facsimile edition of Melville’s 1888 John Marr and Other Sailors (Kent State UP, 2006). Clearly a major re-evaluation, a sea-change if you will, was underway in the ever evolving world of Melville scholarship. Robillard, in his 2000 introduction, also expressed with understatement the frustration and anticipation of Melville scholars at the time: “The Northwestern-Newberry volume in the new collected works has been promised for years and may be out soon” (Poems 2). For one reason and another, Published Poems appeared ten years later, but Robillard’s expectations about the utility and interest of such a volume have been fulfilled. Indeed Published c  2012 The Melville Society and Blackwell Publishing, Inc. 74 L E V I A T H A N R E V I E W Poems is a scrupulously researched critical edition and much more besides. The editors have laid out a wealth of information, drawing on many sources— Melville’s journals, manuscripts, biography, variants as well as marginal markings , contemporary history, publishing history, the work of contributing scholars , and the editors’ own critical acumen—to present accurate versions of the texts and to contextualize them. Grateful readers, critics, and teachers will seize upon the editors’ labors, which advance our understanding and appreciation of Melville’s poetry. Published Poems will help to secure Melville’s reputation as a—and perhaps the—major nineteenth-century United States poet. Such a statement will strike some as over the mark. The so-called “Melville revival” in the 1920s had mainly to do with his prose works, especially Moby-Dick, not with his poetry, although the poems were collected in the final volume of the then-standard Constable edition (1924). Interest grew slowly but steadily over the years. Howard Vincent’s Collected Poems of Herman Melville came out in 1947, and the Standard edition was reprinted in 1963. Among the partial collections are Robert Penn Warren’s in 1967 and Aaron Kramer’s in 1972. Book-length studies by William B. Stein in 1970 and William Shurr in 1972 contributed to the growing interest in this aspect of Melville’s work. A few of his poems “made it” into university anthologies; his “epitaph” of John Brown as the ominous “meteor of the war,” a quotation from...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1750-1849
Print ISSN
1525-6995
Pages
pp. 74-80
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-29
Open Access
No
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