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January 29, 2007

The Melvilleian (Villian? What?)! Poetic Justice Becomes Melville

I know this seems like a total cop-out, but seriously. There is a little poetic justice in the opening paragraph to Melville's "Benito Cereno."

"In the year 1799, Captain Amasa Delano, of Duxbury, in Massachusettes, commanding a large sealer and general trader, lay at anchor with a valuable cargo, in the harbor of St. Maria - a small, desert, uninhabited island toward the southern extremity of the long coast of Chili. There he had touched for water."

Specifically, the 2nd sentence grabbed me and gave me cause to re-examine the first sentence. I have found Melville's writing to be a mirror of his life/surroundings - as such, in regards to the author and the work, they are rarely exclusive of one-another. For Melville, he writes of the sea and boating; a life he knows only too well. His structure is that of the sea; expansive and deep, but with sharpness and precision.

Consider this: the first sentence of the entire work reaches a length of 46 words. I, personally, have no problem with an exceedingly long sentence, as I am guilty of them often, however, I also appreciate the sharpness of his brevity in the following sentence measuring a simple 6 words.

How is it then that Melville was able to catch me with a six word sentence than a forty-six word sentence? Perhaps, and it could just be my own reading, I enjoy the slight ironic notion of leaving the sea for an uninhabited to find water, or it could simply be the order of Melville's wording, stating "there he had touched for water," speaking in a somewhat offbeat manner.

As I had noted, Melville's wording and story is much like the sea, or, in many cases, the specific surroundings it addresses. At first he describes the ship and the captain, almost losing the reader in semi-superlatives, then adds, almost as an after thought, that the ship was anchored off the coast because they needed water.

For further reading, I suggest looking at Moby Dick, specifically the chapter titled "The Whiteness of the Whale." His structure is equal to what he is describing - the expanse and starkness of a white whale which reads on for, oh, ever or a large ship with valuable cargo and a well-seasoned captain deserve 46 words. A small island off of Chile's coast is only worth 6.

His story is vast, and ironically dry, but is also masterfully crafted.

Posted by KevinMcGinnis at January 29, 2007 9:58 PM

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