What is the importance of form in the poem "At Melville's Tomb"?

The importance of form in the poem "At Melville's Tomb" is that the combination of formal and free-verse elements mirrors the disruption of the poem by the chaotic element of the sea.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The form of Hart Crane's "At Melville's Tomb" is unusual in its combination of formal and free verse. The poem is divided into four regular stanzas of four lines each, and most of the lines are in iambic pentameter. However, there are a few departures from this, notably in the fifth and sixteenth lines. Rhyme is used, but without a scheme.

The first stanza is in blank verse, but in the second, the fifth line is rhymed with the eighth. The third stanza consists of two couplets, the first with a half-rhyme and the second a full rhyme. In the final stanza, the fourteenth and sixteenth lines are rhymed.

The complexity and originality of this form reflects the poem's content. The title leads the reader to expect a formal eulogy and elegy written while contemplating the tombstone of the great novelist. Immediately, however, the poem takes the reader to the sea, as Melville himself did. This poem is set in a graveyard of sorts, but it is the marine graveyard that claimed the whalers and mariners who were Melville's subjects. The disruptive power of the sea in their lives is suggested by the ambiguous grammar and syntax of the poem, as well as the way in which the order imposed by its form is subject to frequent modifications, like the course of a ship.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on October 6, 2020
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial