In the Prison Pen

By Herman Melville 1819–1891 Herman Melville

(1864)

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

Source: “Words for the Hour”: A New Anthology of American Civil War Poetry, edited by Faith Barrett and Cristanne Miller (University of Massachusetts Press, 2005)

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Poet Herman Melville 1819–1891

Subjects Social Commentaries, Crime & Punishment, History & Politics, War & Conflict

Poetic Terms Quatrain, Rhymed Stanza

 Herman  Melville

Biography

Although chiefly known for his magisterial novel Moby-Dick and for other prose works, Herman Melville was also a fascinating poet who turned to the art after his serious fiction failed to find appreciative readers. His eccentric verse displays the complexity of thought and verbal richness of his novels, which has led some critics to rank him just below Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson among 19th-century American poets.

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SUBJECT Social Commentaries, Crime & Punishment, History & Politics, War & Conflict

Poetic Terms Quatrain, Rhymed Stanza

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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