Rhythms of Civility

In Meville’s great novel Moby Dick, Captain Ahab seeks news from Captain Gardiner, whose son has been lost after an encounter with the monstrous whale. Ahab’s refusal to help Gardiner find his boy is foreshadowed in Ahab’s behavior when the two captains first meet aboard the Pequod: “Immediately he was recognized by Ahab for a Nantucketer he knew. But no formal salutation was exchanged.” Ahab’s refusal sweeps aside the rituals and courtesies of public discourse and the civilized life such social norms embody.

William Baer chose Melville’s “formal salutation,” not only as the epigraph to this book of measured verse but also, pluralized, as the book’s main title. That choice is complemented by the dust-jacket painting depicting a man and a woman in formal attire skillfully dancing. Lines from two poets come to mind and harmonize: W. B. Yeats’ “O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,/ How can we know the dancer from the dance?,” and Alexander Pope’s “True ease in writing comes from Art, not Chance,/ As those move easiest who have learn’d to dance.” Taken together, the epigraph, title, and cover art are a good introduction to Baer as a writer of traditional, accentual-syllabic poems.

Baer is a master of the sonnet and the ballad as well as of other forms. His poems are often character studies and frequently tell...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here