Herman Melville's Battle-pieces and aspects of the war: background, structure and meaning

Simpson, Judy A. (1977) Herman Melville's Battle-pieces and aspects of the war: background, structure and meaning. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

Herman Melville published his first book of poetry, a small volume of seventy-two poems about the American Civil War, in August, 1866. Although Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War has stimulated little interest, the volume is a well-conceived, unified, meaningful work of art. A study of Battle-Pieces reveals that Melville wrote in poetic form because he had well-defined theories about the nature of poetry, because he considered himself a poet, and because he believed that the poet had important functions to perform for society. An examination of Battle-Pieces not only manifests why Melville turned to poetry in verse, but it also discloses his process of composition. Melville did not write the war poems haphazardly. His theories about composition determined when as well as how he wrote them. In addition, an investigation into the source's which Melville used gives in sight into how he converted personal experiences and borrowed materials into original poems. -- Until one is aware of and applies Melville's concept of architectonics to the study of the entire volume and until one is knowledgeable about Melville's philosophy of the organic theory of art and utilizes it in a study of the individual poems in Battle-Pieces, the volume appears to be a disjointed collection of shards and patches. Only as one studies the structure of the whole and the parts is the organic unity of Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War revealed. Not only is a study of Battle-Pieces significant for what it reveals about the background and structure of the volume, but it is also important for what it discloses about Melville's response to the Civil War. That Melville views the war from the perspectives of patriot, citizen, and philosopher-poet contributes to the complexities and ambiguities of the volume. These three cycles do, however, fit together to support the main concern of the volume-- reconciliation. -- A careful investigation of the background, structure, and meaning of Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War can only lead to the conclusion that the volume is a fine work of art in its own right. Its style is more often than not suited to content. Its structure fully supports meaning, and its content reveals an objectivity, realism, and universality nowhere else seen in American Civil War poetry. A study of Battle-Pieces also leads to the conclusion that it is significant for its revelation of Melville. Melville was a conscientious artist who sought to put his poetic principles to work in Battle-Pieces. He was also a devoted American who did not let his patriotism for the North override his concern for the unity of his nation. Finally, Battle-Pieces reveals that Melville wished to help insure the progress of all mankind with his war poetry. He believed that if man could recognize the duality of existence, manifested in America by the Civil War, he would be more tolerant of his fellow men, and the world, therefore, would be a better place.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/5442
Item ID: 5442
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves 265-271.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: 1977
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Melville, Herman, 1819-1891--Battle-pieces and aspects of the war

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