Taking the solitude that permeates John Marr and Other Sailors (1888) as a central point of inquiry, this essay argues that the first four poems in the collection—"John Marr," "Bridegroom Dick," Tom Deadlight," and "Jack Roy"—compose what I term "a community of isolatoes." While the poetical utterances of solitary ex-sailors in these poems seem misaddressed at first glance, I view them as forming polyphonic voices rather than offering monologues. Furthermore, I situate these poems in a long genealogy of Melville's postal imagery that dates back to the early 1850s, especially the dead letters in "Bartleby, the Scrivener" (1853). In Melville's formulation, a dead letter refers not to a letter's death but to a suspended state where the letter fluctuates between life and death, waiting to be read and restored. By figuratively construing John Marr as a dead letter partly addressed to future readers, this essay joins recent scholarly efforts to challenge the critical image of Melville in his later years as a solitary recluse.


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