Much recent interest in Herman Melville's poetry involves reassessing its position both within the Melville canon and within or against various literary traditions. This essay considers the range of stances, speakers, and personae in John Marr and Other Sailors With Some Sea-Pieces (1888) and its resonances of past works as evidence that Melville is more committed to a public audience and less oppositional or adversarial to established traditions than a number of scholars have proposed. A study of topical and rhetorical interdependencies in a sequence of poems in the volume uncovers dynamic affinities, whether by direct influence or otherwise, with William Shakespeare, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Alfred Tennyson, and Walt Whitman, participants in Melville's own recurring urge to tell of things that cannot be told. Through a communion of voices, “The Æolian Harp,” “To the Master of the ‘Meteor,’” and “Far Off-Shore” display varying and alternating expressions of this urge as part of a rhetorical project that invites readers to interact and ultimately acquiesce in essential limits of accessing and telling the truth.
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