Google reminded me this morning of Herman Melville – today, to the day, Moby Dick was released, the sublime, and, let’s be honest, sometimes sublimely boring fish story. – Actually, one of my favorite novels of all time.
And Mr Melville knew pretty well whom he owed, as a pioneer of maritime tales of dread. This poem he wrote, in dedication to Coleridge, ca. 1891:
C---'S LAMENT HOW lovely was the light of heaven, What angels leaned from out the sky In years when youth was more than wine And man and nature seemed divine Ere yet I felt that youth must die. Ere yet I felt that youth must die How insubstantial looked the earth, Aladdin-land ! in each advance, Or here or there, a new romance ; I never dreamed would come a dearth. And nothing then but had its worth, Even pain. Yes, pleasure still and pain In quick reaction made of life A lovers' quarrel, happy strife In youth that never comes again. But will youth never come again ? Even to his grave-bed has he gone, And left me lone to wake by night With heavy heart that erst was light ? O, lay it at his head-a stone !
(Taken from a 1924 edition of Melville’s work, available here.)
Now, I could say what I think of the poem, but to be quite honest, I know nothing about Melville, except for the aforementioned “fish story”, and can’t dare to give an assessment of Melville’s reception of Coleridge beyond the most general observations. Strange, one may think, because that book deeply affected me, as silly as it may seem. Yet, I never felt like I should delve more into that author’s work – if only, because American Studies at my university were the least popular class.
Instead, here, by more able spirts, what the scholars say about Melville, Coleridge, and C—‘s Lament:
(From Gale, Robert L. A Herman Melville Encyclopedia. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1995. Page 88. Via Google Books.)
From another source, I know that Melville apparently put a lot of thought into the title of the poem, changing it various times, from “Coleridge’s Lament”, to “Threnody”, and a few other variations, before he settled for the final name.