Friday, January 31, 2014

Analysis of "At Melville's Tomb" by Hart Crane

Original poem reprinted online here:  "At Melville's Tomb" by Hart Crane
Originally read: July 21, 2013
More information about the Poet: Hart Crane

This poem is an homage to Herman Melville, in the sense that the references to nautical terms relate to the speaker's experience with Melville.  Written in quatrains, the poem also has an unpinned rhyme scheme -- making the poem more vers libre than any other form.  Also each stanza is end-stopped giving each stanza an individual importance.

In the first stanza, the focus is on the the perspective.  There's two going at play here, the speaker and how the speaker interpreted the "he" to observe the same see.    So overall is what the speaker sees and interprets. "He" sees, "Often beneath the wave, wide from this ledge / The dice of drowned men's bones he saw bequeath / An embassy".  When the line ends with "An embassy" there's a judgment call -- yes, these are drowned men, but there's something communal about them rather than separate.  And even though they are communal, "Their numbers as he watched, Beat on the dusty shore and were obscured.  Note the shift back onto land; however, the question is what is obscured?  The visual or the representation.

In the second stanza, the idea of obscure comes through the description:

     And wrecks passed without sound of bells,
     The calyx of death's bounty gives back
     A scattered chapter, livid hieroglyph,
     The portent wound in corridors of shells.

Note that the first and fourth line rhyme in this stanza which indicates a separate sort of connection.  There's the sound of bells, or actually the lack of which the speaker and "he" refocuses on the scene of the dead -- "A scattered chapter, livid hieroglyph / The portent wound in corridors of shells"  Note how fluid the speaker transitions to the scene back to language so that when the phrase, "The portent wound" comes in, the metaphor is applicable to the writing of a scene and the visual of what is seen.

The next stanza I had the most trouble with because I thought, "the circuit calm" was an entirely new concept based on the individuality of the stanzas.  1st stanza: the connection between speakers 2nd: the actual scene and the writing of the scene.  However, "the circuit calm is the combination of the first and second stanza with the idea of "one vast coil" coinciding with the "calyx".  And with the paradox line, "Its lashings charmed and malice reconciled, / Frosted eyes there were that lifted altars" the act of writing about "the embassy" changes the meaning of the dead, "and silent answers crept across the stars"  note the hyperbole here is not about the message is how the message is portrayed -- distant or even non-existent like, "wrecks passed without sound of bells"

I feel the last stanza makes a good envoy to the poem in which each line goes back to how the speaker wanted to approach the subjects of "he", language, and the sea.  "Compass, quadrant and sextant contrive"  Here are the tools to communicate, just like language -- contrive, the creation of art or a scene, but in the context of the instruments, there's also a sense of discovery.  "No farther tides ... High in the azure steeps / Monoday shall not wake the mariner"  So the monoday refers to the poem and the process -- the farther tides (distance) the high in the azure steps (honoring) will not bring the mariner back -- both Melville and the subjects Melville wrote about.  "This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps."  Note the adj/noun combination ties in the homage concept -- fabulous in concept but shadow in reality.

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