Muriel Rukeyser, America, and the “Melville Revival”

Catherine Gander

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    Whilst Muriel Rukeyser's poetic affinity with Walt Whitman is generally acknowledged, the close relation of her work and poetic sensibility to the thought and writing of Herman Melville has somehow gone relatively unnoticed, and almost wholly unexamined. In 1918, Van Wyck Brooks called for the creation of a usable past that would energize America by recasting its cultural tradition. His plea addressed the need to rebuild a national heritage via the rediscovery of culturally “great” figures. By the late 1930s, many scholars and writers had answered the call, and the new discipline of American studies was beginning to take shape, aided by a reclamation of one of the country's greatest, most neglected, writers – Herman Melville. This was also the period in which Rukeyser “came of age”; a time when political and international conflicts and economic crises generated both the stark, documentary representation of present social realities and the drive to retrieve or reconstruct a more golden age that might mobilize a dislocated nation. The following article examines the importance of Melville to Rukeyser's work, and situates her within the “Melville revival” as an important figure in the movement throughout the first half of the twentieth century to reconstruct an American cultural character.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)759-775
    Number of pages17
    JournalJournal of American Studies
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2010

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