Quick Telecast
Expect News First

Poem of the week: In the Prison Pen by Herman Melville | Herman Melville

0 90


In the Prison Pen

Listless he eyes the palisades
And sentries in the glare;
’Tis barren as a pelican-beach —
But his world is ended there.

Nothing to do; and vacant hands
Bring on the idiot-pain;
He tries to think — to recollect,
But the blur is on his brain.

Around him swarm the plaining ghosts
Like those on Virgil’s shore
A wilderness of faces dim
And pale ones gashed and hoar.

A smiting sun. No shed, no tree;
He totters to his lair —
A den that sick hands dug in earth
Ere famine wasted there,

Or, dropping by his place, he swoons,
Walled in by throngs that press,
Till forth from throngs they bear him dead —
Dead in his meagreness.

This week’s poem is from an unusual first collection: Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War by Herman Melville (1819-1891). A miscellany of his personal responses to the American civil war, it was published in 1866. Melville had achieved little commercial success as a novelist after his bestselling debut book Typee. In New York, near-penury led him to employment as a customs inspector and from the 1860s he devoted his literary attention to poetry.

Commenting on the “Battle-Pieces” in three introductory paragraphs, all in parenthesis, Melville writes: “The aspects which the strife as a memory assumes are as manifold as are the moods of involuntary meditation – moods variable, and at times widely at variance. Yielding instinctively, one after another, to feelings not inspired from any one source exclusively, and unmindful, without purposing to be, of consistency, I seem, in most of these verses, to have but placed a harp in a window, and noted the contrasted airs which wayward wilds have played upon the strings.”

Perhaps these words hint at a troubled response to the genre itself. Melville’s Aeolian harp image gestures towards his sense of Romantic antecedents. Perhaps it also alludes to his perception that the poem, and even the poetry collection, is a less architecturally planned affair than the novel. The comments seem to indicate the desire to maintain political distance, and resist the popular conception of the civil war poem. As Vanessa Meikle Schulman strongly argues here Melville’s particular concern is the effect of war on the bodily and mental health of the combatants. These concerns push him in the direction of poetic innovation, if not at the pitch of a Walt Whitman or an Emily Dickinson.

In the Prison Pen has a conventional ballad-like form but the vocabulary is stunningly direct at times, and delivers an unrelieved focus on the prisoner’s wretchedness. Immediately the reader is shown the camp surroundings from his internal vantage point, the sentries seemingly indistinguishable from the palisades in the “glare” of the day and the “blur” of his mind. Words such as “pen”, “lair” and “den” illuminate his reduction from human to animal.

skip past newsletter promotion

The third-line simile needs a footnote I’m unable to supply. What is a pelican-beach? I couldn’t find it in a glossary of old nautical terms. If the beach is barren, it might indicate the aftermath of a battle between incumbent fisherman and the voracious birds they consider to be rivals. The likelihood that “pelican” is derived from the Greek word for “axe” (pelekys) and refers to the birds’ enormously long beaks, enabling them to prey not only on fish but other bird species, reinforces the “battle” theme. The ruins of mortal combat haunt the air. It’s a forceful figure for the exposed desolation of the prisoner-of-war camp.

In the next verse Melville enlarges, with frightening economy, on the prisoner’s inner state, and the way one mental process worsens into another. His coinage, “idiot-pain” fuses the experience of pain on opposing levels of numbness and sharpness. The pain may imply a war-wound. It is “idiot” in that it encompasses the entire being, and to no purpose, having been the price merely of capture and humiliation.

It’s in images such as these that Melville’s poem soars beyond moments of literariness, such as Virgil’s “plaining ghosts” and the inversion of “faces dim” in verse three. There’s a fine choice of adjectives to redeem this verse, though, when the faces are seen as “gashed and hoar”. The heightened, often monosyllabic, diction continues to the end of the poem, with a fifth verse whose power lies in its abbreviation, and a sixth where, escaping the sun, the prisoner is in another hell which is “his place” – among the “throngs” of fellow prisoners by whom he’s “walled in”. The repetition of “throngs” impresses on us their numerousness and inescapability.

In death as in life, the prisoner is utterly reduced. Divided only by a line-break, the word “dead” is insistent as a drum-beat. He is “dead in his meagreness” with no trace of honour or regret, only a reiteration of his insignificance. The poem rises at this moment to tragic utterance.


In the Prison Pen

Listless he eyes the palisades
And sentries in the glare;
’Tis barren as a pelican-beach —
But his world is ended there.

Nothing to do; and vacant hands
Bring on the idiot-pain;
He tries to think — to recollect,
But the blur is on his brain.

Around him swarm the plaining ghosts
Like those on Virgil’s shore
A wilderness of faces dim
And pale ones gashed and hoar.

A smiting sun. No shed, no tree;
He totters to his lair —
A den that sick hands dug in earth
Ere famine wasted there,

Or, dropping by his place, he swoons,
Walled in by throngs that press,
Till forth from throngs they bear him dead —
Dead in his meagreness.

This week’s poem is from an unusual first collection: Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War by Herman Melville (1819-1891). A miscellany of his personal responses to the American civil war, it was published in 1866. Melville had achieved little commercial success as a novelist after his bestselling debut book Typee. In New York, near-penury led him to employment as a customs inspector and from the 1860s he devoted his literary attention to poetry.

Commenting on the “Battle-Pieces” in three introductory paragraphs, all in parenthesis, Melville writes: “The aspects which the strife as a memory assumes are as manifold as are the moods of involuntary meditation – moods variable, and at times widely at variance. Yielding instinctively, one after another, to feelings not inspired from any one source exclusively, and unmindful, without purposing to be, of consistency, I seem, in most of these verses, to have but placed a harp in a window, and noted the contrasted airs which wayward wilds have played upon the strings.”

Perhaps these words hint at a troubled response to the genre itself. Melville’s Aeolian harp image gestures towards his sense of Romantic antecedents. Perhaps it also alludes to his perception that the poem, and even the poetry collection, is a less architecturally planned affair than the novel. The comments seem to indicate the desire to maintain political distance, and resist the popular conception of the civil war poem. As Vanessa Meikle Schulman strongly argues here Melville’s particular concern is the effect of war on the bodily and mental health of the combatants. These concerns push him in the direction of poetic innovation, if not at the pitch of a Walt Whitman or an Emily Dickinson.

In the Prison Pen has a conventional ballad-like form but the vocabulary is stunningly direct at times, and delivers an unrelieved focus on the prisoner’s wretchedness. Immediately the reader is shown the camp surroundings from his internal vantage point, the sentries seemingly indistinguishable from the palisades in the “glare” of the day and the “blur” of his mind. Words such as “pen”, “lair” and “den” illuminate his reduction from human to animal.

skip past newsletter promotion

The third-line simile needs a footnote I’m unable to supply. What is a pelican-beach? I couldn’t find it in a glossary of old nautical terms. If the beach is barren, it might indicate the aftermath of a battle between incumbent fisherman and the voracious birds they consider to be rivals. The likelihood that “pelican” is derived from the Greek word for “axe” (pelekys) and refers to the birds’ enormously long beaks, enabling them to prey not only on fish but other bird species, reinforces the “battle” theme. The ruins of mortal combat haunt the air. It’s a forceful figure for the exposed desolation of the prisoner-of-war camp.

In the next verse Melville enlarges, with frightening economy, on the prisoner’s inner state, and the way one mental process worsens into another. His coinage, “idiot-pain” fuses the experience of pain on opposing levels of numbness and sharpness. The pain may imply a war-wound. It is “idiot” in that it encompasses the entire being, and to no purpose, having been the price merely of capture and humiliation.

It’s in images such as these that Melville’s poem soars beyond moments of literariness, such as Virgil’s “plaining ghosts” and the inversion of “faces dim” in verse three. There’s a fine choice of adjectives to redeem this verse, though, when the faces are seen as “gashed and hoar”. The heightened, often monosyllabic, diction continues to the end of the poem, with a fifth verse whose power lies in its abbreviation, and a sixth where, escaping the sun, the prisoner is in another hell which is “his place” – among the “throngs” of fellow prisoners by whom he’s “walled in”. The repetition of “throngs” impresses on us their numerousness and inescapability.

In death as in life, the prisoner is utterly reduced. Divided only by a line-break, the word “dead” is insistent as a drum-beat. He is “dead in his meagreness” with no trace of honour or regret, only a reiteration of his insignificance. The poem rises at this moment to tragic utterance.

FOLLOW US ON GOOGLE NEWS

Read original article here

Denial of responsibility! Quick Telecast is an automatic aggregator of the all world’s media. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials, please contact us by email – [email protected]. The content will be deleted within 24 hours.

Leave a comment
Ads Blocker Image Powered by Code Help Pro

Ads Blocker Detected!!!

We have detected that you are using extensions to block ads. Please support us by disabling these ads blocker.

buy kamagra buy kamagra online