“The long-drawn virgin vales; the mild blue hillsides; as over these there steals the hush, the hum; you almost swear that play-wearied children lie sleeping in these solitudes, in some glad May-time, when the flowers of the woods are plucked. And all this mixes with your most mystic moods; so that fact and fancy, halfway meeting, interpenetrate, and form one seamless whole.”
Zireaux’s comments on this poem:
Speaking of the sea, speaking of children (see last Tuesday’s Poem), let us ride on one of Melville’s waves: The fourth paragraph of Chapter 114 (“The Gilder”) of Moby Dick. Feel the rocking onomatopoeia of his phrasing, the lurch and lull of his commas, the rolling motion of the “m”s, the spewing pitch of his spondees (“long-drawn,” “mild blue,” “glad May,” “halfway,” that frame-rattling “interpenetrate”).
Here he compares the ocean to land, waves to virgin vales and blue hillsides; and thus, despite the sea-level setting of Moby Dick, we can place its poetry on literature’s highest mountain peaks without fear of some metaphorical mismatch. By the time the introverted father of four became an honest Customs Inspector on Gansevoort Street, Manhattan, dear Herman was first and foremost a poet. At the shivering altitudes of his brilliance we find only Walt Whitman, a precise contemporary of Herman’s, sniffing at the snow — sniffing, I mean, at real snow, “For there is a scent to everything,” writes Whitman in Leaves of Grass, “even the snow.” (Tell this to Wallace Stevens, see comments on “Poems of our Climate”); and at last, at last, having never met in the world of the living (imagine!), the two great poets can sit together, play-wearied, on that poetic peak, on that frozen water, that land-sea of life, high above the America they composed.