Melville the poet is perhaps less well known than Melville the author of the sublime MOBY DICK (the greatest novel in English, I think). Here are three of Melville’s poems in honor of his birthday. The first is a verse from a longer poem.
From “After the Pleasure Party”
For, Nature, in no shallow surge
Against thee either sex may urge,
Why hast thou made us but in halves–
Co-relatives? This makes us slaves.
If these co-relatives never meet
Self-hood itself seems incomplete.
And such the dicing of blind fate
Few matching halves here meet and mate.
What Cosmic jest or Anarch blunder
The human integral clove asunder
And shied the fractions through life’s gate?
“Fragments of Lost Gnostic Poem of the 12th Century”
* * *
Found a family, build a state,
The pledged event is still the same:
Matter in end will never abate
His ancient brutal claim.
* * *
Indolence is heaven’s ally here,
And energy the child of hell:
The Good Man pouring from his pitcher clear,
But brims the poisoned well.
(This poem is thought to have been written after visiting Nathaniel Hawthorne’s grave. For me, the charm of the poem rests in the last line.)
To have know him, to have loved him,
After loneness long;
And then to be estranged in life,
And neither in the wrong;
And now for death to set his seal–
Ease me, a little ease, my song!
By wintry hills his hermit-mound
The sheeted snow-drifts drape,
And houseless there the snow-bird flits
Beneath the fir-tree’s crape:
Glazed now with ice the cloistral vine
That hid the shyest grape.
“all over the world,…hand in hand, and one shock of recognition runs the whole circle round.”