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The Maldive Shark -- Herman Melville

(Poem #775) The Maldive Shark
 About the Shark, phlegmatical one,
 Pale sot of the Maldive sea
 The sleek little pilot-fish, azure and slim,
 How alert in attendence be.
 From his saw-pit mouth, from his charnel of maw
 The have nothing of harm to dread,
 But liquidly glide on his ghastly flank
 Or before his Gorgonian head;
 Or lurk in the port of serrated teeth
 In white triple tiers of glittering gates,
 And there find a haven when peril's abroad,
 An asylum in jaws of the Fates!
 They are friends; and friendly they guide him to prey,
 Yet never partake of the treat--
 Eyes and brains to the dotard lethargic and dull,
 Pale ravener of horrible meat.
-- Herman Melville
Melville has none of the airiness or delicacy of, say, Keats or Flecker
(whose respective ages he neatly bisects). Instead, his verse is _chunky_,
with layer upon layer of densely piled phrases, murky and threatening and
yet strangely vivid. The net effect is powerful, and not completely benign:
the ominous cadences add to the terror of the shark, the 'pale ravener of
horrible meat'...


[Poetry and Prose]

Herman Melville is, of course, more famous as a writer of prose - and what
prose! His masterpiece 'Moby Dick' is generally considered one of the
greatest novels of all time - wildly, incredibly inventive, linguistically
and philosophically challenging, and a rollicking good adventure to boot. It
may not be the easiest of reads to get through, but it's definitely worth
the effort. has more on the writer and his work.

Martin once ran a week of "poems written by writers of prose"; check out
Poem #179, "Missed", P. G. Wodehouse
Poem #181, "The Guards Came Through", Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Poem #183, "Sorrows of Werther", William Makepeace Thackeray
and, later:
Poem #259, "Songs from an Evil Wood", Lord Dunsany
Poem #261, "Recompense", Robert E. Howard
Poem #664, "Conceit", Mervyn Peake
Poem #701, "Teeth", Spike Milligan

While the above examples may be by and large unremarkable, they do serve to
highlight the achievement of writers such as Thomas Hardy and Rudyard
Kipling, who achieved equal acclaim for both forms of their art. D. H.
Lawrence, Oliver Goldsmith and Edgar Allan Poe are hardly any less
distinguished than the two giants named above, while J. R. R. Tolkien and
Lewis Carroll deserve special recognition for the way their prose is
immeasurably enhanced by the inclusion of verse - so much so that the two
are well nigh inseparable (in this reviewer's mind, at least). Boris
Pasternak and Jorge Luis Borges round out the list; all these writers can be
found on the Minstrels website, at
[broken link] .

For an essay on the necessary distinction between poetry and other forms of
expression, see poem #349.

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