Cloth Text – $32.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-2464-6
Publication Date
December 2007
Page Count
248 pages
Trim Size
6 1/8 x 9 1/4


The Making of the Poet

"Who would have looked for philosophy in whales, or for poetry in blubber?" the London John Bull remarked in October of 1851. And yet, the reviewer went on, "Few books which professedly deal in metaphysics, or claim the parentage of the muses, contain as much true philosophy and as much genuine poetry as the tale of the Pequod's whaling expedition." A decade and a half before surprising the world with a book of Civil war poetry, Melville was already confident of what was "poetic" in his prose. As Hershel Parker demonstrates in this book, Melville was steeped in poetry long before he called himself a poet. 


Here Parker, the dean of Melville studies, gives a compelling, in-depth account of how one of America's greatest writers grew into the vocation of a poet. His work corrects two of the most pernicious misconceptions about Melville perpetuated by earlier critics: that he repudiated fiction writing after Pierre, and that he hadn't begun writing poetry (let alone had a book of poems ready for publication) as early as 1860. In clearing up these misapprehensions, Parker gives a thorough and thoroughly involving account of Melville's development as a poet. Parker demonstrates for the first time just how crucial poetry was to Melville from childhood to old age, especially its re-emergence in his life after 1849. Drawing on Melville's shrewd annotations of great British poets and on his probing, skeptical engagement with commentaries on poetry (particularly by the great Scots reviewers), Parker paints a richly textured portrait of a hitherto unseen side of Herman Melville.

About the Author

Hershel Parker, H. Fletcher Brown Professor Emeritus at the University of Delaware, is the associate general editor of the Northwestern-Newberry The Writings of Herman Melville. His publications include Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons, Reading "Billy Budd”, and the 1995 edition of Melville's Pierre, or, The Ambiguities, illustrated by Maurice Sendak. He is also the author of the two-volume Herman Melville: A Biography, 1819-1851 (1996) and Herman Melville: A Biography, 1851-1891 (2002), the first a Pulitzer finalist and each the winner of the highest award from the Association of American Publishers' Professional/Scholarly Publishing Division.


"With astonishingly far-reaching attention to the pertinent specifics of poems and prose commentaries by English and American writers who influenced Melville, Parker re-creates the poetic education of the man who would go on to write Moby-Dick. His book is a stunning defense of Melville's right to be treated as a major poet. Highly recommended for all academic libraries."—Library Journal

"Highly recommended."--CHOICE Magazine