At Melville's Tomb

by Hart Crane

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Can someone explain some recurring images in Hart Crane's poetry and their associations?

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In his elegy for Herman Melville, Hart Crane speaks about Melville in the third person rather than addressing him. The things that Crane sees standing at the great writer’s tomb were likely the things that Melville himself beheld and about which he wrote. These are both the sea itself and the things that the sea sends up on shore.

Most of the images, therefore, are related to the sea. “The wave” of the first line is echoed by “the circuit calm of one vast coil,” which refers to thick but gentle surf. Similarly, the things that come from “beneath” the sea come “drowned men’s bones,” and the waves bring them to “beat on the dusty shore.” Finally, Melville’s death is mentioned. It is associated in the last line with the ceasing of the waves: “No farther tides. . . .” In addition, “Monody shall not wake the mariner” references not only Melville’s death but his earlier elegiac poem, or “Monody,” written for Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Another connection that is frequently drawn is to William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in a song that the sprite Ariel sings. The images of the “drowned men’s bones” may reference “his bones are of coral made” and the ““frosted eyes” may allude to the “pearls that were his eyes.” Both works connected people lost to the sea to death more generally.

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