Thursday 15 August 2019

Dirge by Herman Melville

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash
Herman Melville not only wrote novels, but spent the last decades of his life, in particular, writing poetry.

His first book of poems, Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War (1866) followed the timeline of the Civil War. According to the Poetry Foundation 'the poems deflate core myths of American exceptionalism.'
His son, Malcolm fought in the Civil War and later committed suicide as Melville was writing his second book of poetry, Clarel (1876). His cousin, brother and mother also died during this period of time. No wonder Melville was fully across Ishmael's lament about 'whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul.'

His last two publications were self-published - John Marr and Other Sailors, with Some Sea-Pieces (1888) and Timoleon and Other Ventures in Minor Verse (1891).

Weeds and Wildings with a Rose or Two, was an unfinished collection that Melville had been working on at the time of his death. It was published posthumously as a private edition.

Everything I've read about Melville so far, would seem to indicate that he was a complicated man full of contradictions, confusion and philosophical doubt. His energy levels and passions ran hot and cold, high and low. He was plagued by depression, financial insecurity and religious conflict.

His poetry reflected his search for meaning, truth and peace.


We drop our dead in the sea,
The bottomless, bottomless sea;
Each bubble a hollow sigh,
As it sinks forever and aye.
We drop our dead in the sea, –
The dead reek not of aught;
We drop our dead in the sea, –
The sea ne’er gives it a thought.
Sink, sink, oh corpse, still sink,
Far down in the bottomless sea,
Where the unknown forms do prowl,
Down, down in the bottomless sea.
‘Tis night above, and night all round,
And night will it be with thee;
As thou sinkest, and sinkest for aye,
Deeper down in the bottomless sea.


Jennifer @Holds Upon Happiness posts a lovely Poem for a Thursday each week. I'm enjoying sourcing poems from my recent reads to join in with her at the moment.


  1. Interesting notes about his poetry. I hadn't realized he wrote so much of it. That "Dirge" is pretty depressing. "Moby-Dick" is a favorite of mine ever since I read it 2 years ago. I am enjoying following your Tweeting and blogging about the readathon!

    1. I feel like I've become a little obsessed with Melville atm! Have been digging into his backstory online and think that I will need to hunt down a good bio or two to find out more. His life seems so open to interpretation and re-interpretation - a process I find endlessly fascinating - how people and historic events get re-examined, reclaimed and reinterpreted by different times and different groups.

  2. Very dark, but I love the sound of this.

    1. There's something about the bottomless sea refrain that I find quite appealing despite its dark message.

  3. Replies
    1. Yes I'm beginning to discover that Melville was a very complex character. I've been researching online his backstory after becoming a little confused by some mixed messages I felt that I was getting about him as I was reading MD.
      I think that mixed messages could have been his motto!!


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