Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story writer and poet of the American Renaissance period. Among his best-known works are Moby-Dick, Typee, a romanticized account of his experiences in Polynesia, and Billy Budd, a posthumously published novella.
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Famous Herman Melville Poems
For Graves at Pea Ridge, Arkansas
Let none misgive we died amiss
When here we strove in furious fight:
Furious it was; nathless was this
Better than tranquil plight,
And tame surrender of the Cause
Hallowed by hearts and by the laws.
We here who warred for Man and Right,
The choice of warring never laid with us.
There we were ruled by the traitor’s choice.
Nor long we stood to trim and poise,
But marched and fell–victorious!
We rovers bold,
To the land of Gold,
Over the bowling billows are gliding:
Eager to toil,
For the golden spoil,
And every hardship biding.
Before our prows’ resistless dashes
The gold-fish fly in golden flashes!
‘Neath a sun of gold,
We rovers bold,
On the golden land are gaining;
And every night,
We steer aright,
By golden stars unwaning!
All fires burn a golden glare:
No locks so bright as golden hair!
All orange groves have golden gushings;
All mornings dawn with golden flushings!
In a shower of gold, say fables old,
A maiden was won by the god of gold!
In golden goblets wine is beaming:
On golden couches kings are dreaming!
The Golden Rule dries many tears!
The Golden Number rules the spheres!
Gold, gold it is, that sways the nations:
Gold! gold! the center of all rotations!
On golden axles worlds are turning:
With phosphorescence seas are burning!
All fire-flies flame with golden gleamings!
Gold-hunters’ hearts with golden dreamings!
With golden arrows kings are slain:
With gold we’ll buy a freeman’s name!
In toilsome trades, for scanty earnings,
At home we’ve slaved, with stifled yearnings:
No light! no hope! Oh, heavy woe!
When nights fled fast, and days dragged slow.
But joyful now, with eager eye,
Fast to the Promised Land we fly:
Where in deep mines,
The treasure shines;
Or down in beds of golden streams,
The gold-flakes glance in golden gleams!
How we long to sift,
That yellow drift!
Rivers! Rivers! cease your goings!
Sand-bars! rise, and stay the tide!
‘Till we’ve gained the golden flowing;
And in the golden haven ride!
The Age Of The Antonines
While faith forecasts millennial years
Spite Europe’s embattled lines,
Back to the Past one glance be cast–
The Age of the Antonines!
O summit of fate, O zenith of time
When a pagan gentleman reigned,
And the olive was nailed to the inn of the
Nor the peace of the just was feigned.
A halcyon Age, afar it shines,
Solstice of Man and the Antonines.
Hymns to the nations’ friendly gods
Went up from the fellowly shrines,
No demagogue beat the pulpit-drum
In the Age of the Antonines!
The sting was not dreamed to be taken from
No Paradise pledged or sought,
But they reasoned of fate at the flowing feast,
Nor stifled the fluent thought,
We sham, we shuffle while faith declines–
They were frank in the Age of the Antonines.
Orders and ranks they kept degree,
Few felt how the parvenu pines,
No law-maker took the lawless one’s fee
In the Age of the Antonines!
Under law made will the world reposed
And the ruler’s right confessed,
For the heavens elected the Emperor then,
The foremost of men the best.
Ah, might we read in America’s signs
The Age restored of the Antonines.
Far off in the sea is Marlena,
A land of shades and streams,
A land of many delights,
Dark and bold, thy shores, Marlena;
But green, and timorous, thy soft knolls,
Crouching behind the woodlands.
All shady thy hills; all gleaming thy springs,
Like eyes in the earth looking at you.
How charming thy haunts, Marlena!–
Oh, the waters that flow through Onimoo;
Oh, the leaves that rustle through Ponoo:
Oh, the roses that blossom in Tarma.
Come, and see the valley of Vina:
How sweet, how sweet, the Isles from Hina:
‘Tis aye afternoon of the full, full moon,
And ever the season of fruit,
And ever the hour of flowers,
And never the time of rains and gales,
All in and about Marlena.
Soft sigh the boughs in the stilly air,
Soft lap the beach the billows there;
And in the woods or by the streams,
You needs must nod in the Land of Dreams.
Care is all stuff:–
To puff is enough:–
More musky than snuff,
And warm is a puff:–
Here we sit mid our puffs,
Like old lords in their ruffs,
Snug as bears in their muffs:–
Then puff, puff, puff,
For care is all stuff,
Puffed off in a puff–
The Aeolian Harp
At The Surf Inn
List the harp in window wailing
Stirred by fitful gales from sea:
Shrieking up in mad crescendo–
Dying down in plaintive key!
Listen: less a strain ideal
Than Ariel’s rendering of the Real.
What that Real is, let hint
A picture stamped in memory’s mint.
Braced well up, with beams aslant,
Betwixt the continents sails the Phocion,
For Baltimore bound from Alicant.
Blue breezy skies white fleeces fleck
Over the chill blue white-capped ocean:
From yard-arm comes–‘Wreck ho, a
Dismasted and adrift,
Longtime a thing forsaken;
Overwashed by every wave
Like the slumbering kraken;
Heedless if the billow roar,
Oblivious of the lull,
Leagues and leagues from shoal or shore,
It swims–a levelled hull:
Bulwarks gone–a shaven wreck,
Nameless and a grass-green deck.
A lumberman: perchance, in hold
Prostrate pines with hemlocks rolled.
It has drifted, waterlogged,
Till by trailing weeds beclogged:
Drifted, drifted, day by day,
Pilotless on pathless way.
It has drifted till each plank
Is oozy as the oyster-bank:
Drifted, drifted, night by night,
Craft that never shows a light;
Nor ever, to prevent worse knell,
Tolls in fog the warning bell.
From collision never shrinking,
Drive what may through darksome smother;
Saturate, but never sinking,
Fatal only to the other!
Deadlier than the sunken reef
Since still the snare it shifteth,
Torpid in dumb ambuscade
Waylayingly it drifteth.
O, the sailors–O, the sails!
O, the lost crews never heard of!
Well the harp of Ariel wails
Thought that tongue can tell no word of!
The March Into Viriginia
Did all the lets and bars appear
To every just or larger end,
Whence should come the trust and cheer?
Youth must its ignorant impulse lend –
Age finds place in the rear.
All wars are boyish, and are fought by boys,
The champions and enthusiasts of the state:
Turbid adors and vain joys
Not barrenly abate –
Stimulants to the power mature,
Preparatives of fate.
Who here forecasteth the event?
What heart but spurns at precedent
And warnings of the wise,
Contemned foreclosures of surprise?
The banners play, the bugles call,
The air is blue and prodigal.
No berrying party, pleasure-wooed,
No picnic party in the May,
Ever went less loth than they
Into that leafy neighborhood.
In Bacchic glee they file toward Fate,
Expectancy, and glad surmise
Of battle’s unknown mysteries,
All they feel is this: ’tis glory,
A rapture sharp, though transitory,
Yet lasting in belaureled story.
So they gayly go to fight,
Chanting left and laughing right.
But some who this blithe mood present,
As on in lightsome files they fare,
Shall die experienced ere three days are spent –
Perish, enlightened by the vollied glare;
Or shame survive, and, like to adamant,
The throe of Second Manassas share.
The Good Craft Snow Bird
Strenuous need that head-wind be
From purposed voyage that drives at last
The ship, sharp-braced and dogged still,
Beating up against the blast.
Brigs that figs for market gather,
Homeward-bound upon the stretch,
Encounter oft this uglier weather
Yet in end their port they fetch.
Mark yon craft from sunny Smyrna
Glazed with ice in Boston Bay;
Out they toss the fig-drums cheerly,
Livelier for the frosty ray.
What if sleet off-shore assailed her,
What though ice yet plate her yards;
In wintry port not less she renders
Summer’s gift with warm regards!
And, look, the underwriters’ man,
Timely, when the stevedore’s done,
Puts on his specs to pry and scan,
And sets her down–A, No. 1.
Bravo, master! Bravo, brig!
For slanting snows out of the West
Never the Snow-Bird cares one fig;
And foul winds steady her, though a pest.
The Charles-and-Emma seaward sped,
(Named from the carven pair at prow,)
He so smart, and a curly head,
She tricked forth as a bride knows how:
Pretty stem for the port, I trow!
But iron-rust and alum-spray
And chafing gear, and sun and dew
Vexed this lad and lassie gay,
Tears in their eyes, salt tears nor few;
And the hug relaxed with the failing glue.
But came in end a dismal night,
With creaking beams and ribs that groan,
A black lee-shore and waters white:
Dropped on the reef, the pair lie prone:
O, the breakers dance, but the winds they
Ha, ha, gods and kings; fill high, one and all;
Drink, drink! shout and drink! mad respond to
Fill fast, and fill full; ‘gainst the goblet ne’er
Quaff there, at high tide, to the uttermost
Flood-tide, and soul-tide to the brim!
Who with wine in him fears? who thinks of his
Who sighs to be wise, when wine in him flares?
Water sinks down below, in currents full slow;
But wine mounts on high with its genial glow:–
Welling up, till the brain overflow!
As the spheres, with a roll, some fiery of soul,
Others golden, with music, revolve round the
So let our cups, radiant with many hued wines,
Round and round in groups circle, our Zodiac’s
Round reeling, and ringing their chimes!
Then drink, gods and kings; wine merriment
It bounds through the veins; there, jubilant
Let it ebb, then, and flow; wine never grows
Drain down that bright tide at the foam beaded
Fill up, every cup, to the brim!
Mortally Wounded at Chancellorsville
The Man who fiercest charged in fight,
Whose sword and prayer were long –
Even him who stoutly stood for Wrong,
How can we praise? Yet coming days
Shall not forget him with this song.
Dead is the Man whose Cause is dead,
Vainly he died and set his seal –
Earnest in error, as we feel;
True to the thing he deemed was due,
True as John Brown or steel.
Relentlessly he routed us;
But we relent, for he is low –
Justly his fame we outlaw; so
We drop a tear on the bold Virginian’s bier,
Because no wreath we owe.
After long wars when comes release
Not olive wands proclaiming peace
Can import dearer share
Than stems of Herba Santa hazed
In autumn’s Indian air.
Of moods they breathe that care disarm,
They pledge us lenitive and calm.
Shall code or creed a lure afford
To win all selves to Love’s accord?
When Love ordained a supper divine
For the wide world of man,
What bickerings o’er his gracious wine!
Then strange new feuds began.
Effectual more in lowlier way,
Pacific Herb, thy sensuous plea
The bristling clans of Adam sway
At least to fellowship in thee!
Before thine altar tribal flags are furled,
Fain wouldst thou make one hearthstone of
To scythe, to sceptre, pen and hod–
Yea, sodden laborers dumb;
To brains overplied, to feet that plod,
In solace of the Truce of God
The Calumet has come!
Ah for the world ere Raleigh’s find
Never that knew this suasive balm
That helps when Gilead’s fails to heal,
Helps by an interserted charm.
Insinuous thou that through the nerve
Windest the soul, and so canst win
Some from repinings, some from sin,
The Church’s aim thou dost subserve.
The ruffled fag fordone with care
And brooding, God would ease this pain:
Him soothest thou and smoothest down
Till some content return again.
Even ruffians feel thy influence breed
Saint Martin’s summer in the mind,
They feel this last evangel plead,
As did the first, apart from creed,
Be peaceful, man–be kind!
Rejected once on higher plain,
O Love supreme, to come again
Can this be thine?
Again to come, and win us too
In likeness of a weed
That as a god didst vainly woo,
As man more vainly bleed?
Forbear, my soul! and in thine Eastern
Rehearse the dream that brings the long
Through jasmine sweet and talismanic amber
Inhaling Herba Santa in the passive Pipe
To The Master Of The Meteor
Lonesome on earth’s loneliest deep,
Sailor! who dost thy vigil keep–
Off the Cape of Storms dost musing sweep
Over monstrous waves that curl and comb;
Of thee we think when here from brink
We blow the mead in bubbling foam.
Of thee we think, in a ring we link;
To the shearer of ocean’s fleece we drink,
And the Meteor rolling home.
Though fast youth’s glorious fable flies,
View not the world with worldling’s eyes;
Nor turn with weather of the time.
Foreclose the coming of surprise:
Stand where Posterity shall stand;
Stand where the Ancients stood before,
And, dipping in lone founts thy hand,
Drink of the never-varying lore:
Wise once, and wise thence evermore.
Off Cape Colonna
Aloof they crown the foreland lone,
From aloft they loftier rise–
Fair columns, in the aureole rolled
From sunned Greek seas and skies.
They wax, sublimed to fancy’s view,
A god-like group against the blue.
Over much like gods! Serene they saw
The wolf-waves board the deck,
And headlong hull of Falconer,
And many a deadlier wreck.
Song Of Yoomy
Departed the pride, and the glory of Mardi:
The vaunt of her isles sleeps deep in the sea,
That rolls o’er his corse with a hush,
His warriors bend over their spears,
His sisters gaze upward and mourn.
Weep, weep, for Adondo is dead!
The sun has gone down in a shower;
Buried in clouds the face of the moon;
Tears stand in the eyes of the starry skies,
And stand in the eyes of the flowers;
And streams of tears are the trickling brooks,
Coursing adown the mountains.–
Departed the pride, and the glory of Mardi:
The vaunt of her isles sleeps deep in the sea.
Fast falls the small rain on its bosom that
Not showers of rain, but the tears of Oro.
John Marr And Other Sailors
Since as in night’s deck-watch ye show,
Why, lads, so silent here to me,
Your watchmate of times long ago?
Once, for all the darkling sea,
You your voices raised how clearly,
Striking in when tempest sung;
Hoisting up the storm-sail cheerly,
Life is storm–let storm! you rung.
Taking things as fated merely,
Childlike though the world ye spanned;
Nor holding unto life too dearly,
Ye who held your lives in hand–
Skimmers, who on oceans four
Petrels were, and larks ashore.
O, not from memory lightly flung,
Forgot, like strains no more availing,
The heart to music haughtier strung;
Nay, frequent near me, never staleing,
Whose good feeling kept ye young.
Like tides that enter creek or stream,
Ye come, ye visit me, or seem
Swimming out from seas of faces,
Alien myriads memory traces,
To enfold me in a dream!
I yearn as ye. But rafts that strain,
Parted, shall they lock again?
Twined we were, entwined, then riven,
Ever to new embracements driven,
Shifting gulf-weed of the main!
And how if one here shift no more,
Lodged by the flinging surge ashore?
Nor less, as now, in eve’s decline,
Your shadowy fellowship is mine.
Ye float around me, form and feature:–
Tattooings, ear-rings, love-locks curled;
Barbarians of man’s simpler nature,
Unworldly servers of the world.
Yea, present all, and dear to me,
Though shades, or scouring China’s sea.
Whither, whither, merchant-sailors,
Whitherward now in roaring gales?
Competing still, ye huntsman-whalers,
In leviathan’s wake what boat prevails?
And man-of-war’s men, whereaway?
If now no dinned drum beat to quarters
On the wilds of midnight waters–
Foemen looming through the spray;
Do yet your gangway lanterns, streaming,
Vainly strive to pierce below,
When, tilted from the slant plank gleaming,
A brother you see to darkness go?
But, gunmates lashed in shotted canvas,
If where long watch-below ye keep,
Never the shrill ‘All hands up hammocks!’
Breaks the spell that charms your sleep,
And summoning trumps might vainly call,
And booming guns implore–
A beat, a heart-beat musters all,
One heart-beat at heart-core.
It musters. But to clasp, retain;
To see you at the halyards main–
To hear your chorus once again!
The Enviable Isles
Through storms you reach them and from
storms are free.
Afar descried, the foremost drear in hue,
But, nearer, green; and, on the marge, the sea
Makes thunder low and mist of rainbowed
But, inland, where the sleep that folds the hills
A dreamier sleep, the trance of God, instills–
On uplands hazed, in wandering airs
Slow-swaying palms salute love’s cypress tree
Adown in vale where pebbly runlets croon
A song to lull all sorrow and all glee.
Sweet-fern and moss in many a glade are here.
Where, strewn in flocks, what cheek-flushed
Dimpling in dream–unconscious slumberers
While billows endless round the beaches die.
Song of the Paddlers [excerpt]
Dip, dip, in the brine our paddles dip,
Dip, dip, the fins of our swimming ship!
How the waters part,
As on we dart;
Our sharp prows fly,
And curl on high,
As the upright fin of the rushing shark,
Rushing fast and far on his flying mark!
Like him we prey;
Like him we slay;
Swim on the foe,
Our prow a blow!