Herman Melville & Hart Crane

Nathaniel Philbrick has written a marvelous book, Why Read Moby-Dick? Let me quote:

Moby-Dick is a novel, but it is also a book of poetry. The beauty of Melville’s sentences is such that it sometimes takes me five minutes or more to make my way through a single page as I reread the words aloud, feeling the rhythms, the shrewdly hidden rhymes, and the miraculous way he manages consonants and vowels. Take, for example, this passage from chapter 51, ‘The Spirit-Spout,’ which picks up with the Pequod just south of St. Helena: ‘while gliding through these latter waters that one serene and moonlight night, when all the waves rolled by like scrolls of silver; and, by their soft, suffusing seethings, made what seemed a silvery silence, not a solitude: on such a silent night a silvery jet was seen far in advance of the white bubbles at the bow. Lit up by the moon, it looked celestial; seemed some plumed and glittering god uprising from the sea.’”

Melville consumed Shakespeare. Hart Crane consumed Melville. Here’s the second part of Crane’s great love poem “Voyages” in which he adds his own silver to the sea.


—And yet this great wink of eternity,
Of rimless floods, unfettered leewardings,
Samite sheeted and processioned where
Her undinal vast belly moonward bends,
Laughing the wrapt inflections of our love;

Take this Sea, whose diapason knells
On scrolls of silver snowy sentences,
The sceptred terror of whose sessions rends
As her demeanors motion well or ill,
All but the pieties of lovers’ hands.

And onward, as bells off San Salvador
Salute the crocus lustres of the stars,
In these poinsettia meadows of her tides,—
Adagios of islands, O my Prodigal,
Complete the dark confessions her veins spell.

Mark how her turning shoulders wind the hours,
And hasten while her penniless rich palms
Pass superscription of bent foam and wave,—
Hasten, while they are true,—sleep, death, desire,
Close round one instant in one floating flower.

Bind us in time, O Seasons clear, and awe.
O minstrel galleons of Carib fire,
Bequeath us to no eatherly shore until
Is answered in the vortex of our grave
The seal’s wide spindrift gaze toward paradise.

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