“At Melville’s Tomb” is written in four four-line stanzas that follow an irregular rhyme scheme. The reader is placed at the gravesite of the noted nineteenth century American novelist, Herman Melville, whose tales of the sea—most notably Moby Dick (1851)—are generally regarded as commentaries on humans coping with one another and nature in a vast, often inimical, and ultimately destructive universe. The speaker, while he may be inspired by Melville, shares with the reader his own personal feelings and observations as he stands “at Melville’s tomb.”
There is not the expected use of the first person. Rather, one is told what Melville, identified only by the third-person pronoun “he,” must have felt and observed when he had stood apparently at the same spot where he is now buried—“wide from this ledge”—and, considering the flotsam and jetsam washing up onto the Atlantic shore, had reflected on the relationship not only between man and the sea but also between man and eternity.
The images are difficult, but not impenetrable. The reader is told that amid the wreckage, and hence the apparent waste, that the sea washes up exist records of human passings, “The dice of drowned men’s bones bequeath[ing]/ An embassy”—that is, imparting some message from the past. What are ostensibly tokens of destruction and loss can in fact be constructive elements if one can read them effectively.
Melville, too, is a messenger from the...
(The entire section is 610 words.)