Herman Melville the Poet

Gillian Osborne in the Boston Review:

The Library of America edition of Herman Melville’s Complete Poems collects, for the first time, all of Melville’s known poetry. This includes collections published during his lifetime and reviewed widely, such as Battle-Pieces (1866), completed in the aftermath of the Civil War. In addition, the book collects work largely unknown by—and unavailable to—general readers until now. This latter category includes the epic poem Clarel (1876), notable both for being the longest American poem to date, and for having most of its first edition burned by the publisher to clear out warehouse space. Library of America is billing the Complete Poems as a resuscitation of one of the United States’ greatest nineteenth-century poets, establishing Melville within the company of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. But while the collection has the potential to change popular understanding of the kind of writer Melville was, the pleasures of reading Melville as a poet are ambiguous, as is the urge to classify him as great.

More here.