Though a few of Herman Melville’s short poems have been reprinted in anthologies of American literature, he is known almost exclusively for his prose fiction. The Melville biographers and critics who mention the poetry usually pass quickly over it, often giving the impression that it may interest some curious readers but that it has no great importance as compared with his novels and stories. In recent years, however, considerable interest has been shown in Melville as a poet.
Most of Melville’s poetry was published during his lifetime, but it drew little attention, partly because the last two volumes were published in editions of only twenty-five copies each. A number of previously unpublished poems did not appear until 1924 in the final volume of the Standard Edition of Melville’s works. A critical edition of the poems (not including the lengthy CLAREL, which occupies two volumes in the Standard Edition) was published in 1947 with explanatory notes and textual notes by Howard P. Vincent. A similar edition of CLAREL, with a critical analytical introduction by Walter E. Bezanson, came out in 1961. Nearly a century after its original publication, Melville’s BATTLE-PIECES AND ASPECTS OF THE WAR was re-issued in 1963 as THE BATTLE-PIECES OF HERMAN MELVILLE in a handsomely printed and profusely illustrated edition with an introduction and extensive notes by Hennig Cohen. The following year Mr. Cohen brought out a...
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