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Sketches of Salt Water Poetry
Herman Melville’s “The Encantadas, or The Enchanted Isles”
ABSTRACT This article uses Herman Melville’s remark on the demise of the “poetry of salt water” as the starting point of an inquiry into the relationship between form and content in one of his seafaring pieces, “The Encantadas, or The Enchanted Isles.” It revisits claims that Melville’s use of a fragmentary style in “The Encantadas” undermines and thereby challenges hegemonic knowledges about the Pacific and its archipelagos, such as are at work in early nineteenth-century natural histories and travel writings. For this purpose, the article discusses “The Encantadas” as an example of the antebellum genre of the literary sketch and points out Melville’s use of the desert island trope. In conclusion this article argues that Melville may be challenging naturalist knowledge in “The Encantadas” but he is also prioritizing literary knowledge—what he calls the “poetry of salt water”—by rendering the Galapagos archipelago simultaneously remote and accessible to readers.
KEYWORDS Herman Melville, archipelagos, islands in literature, aesthetic form, empire