Early critics were not sympathetic. Henry Chapin, in his Introduction to one of the earliest selections of Melville’s poetry, John Marr and Other Poems (1922), said Melville’s verse is “of an amateurish and uneven quality” but in it “that loveable freshness of personality, which his philosophical dejection never quenched, is everywhere in evidence,” in “the voice of a true poet”. The poet and novelist Robert Penn Warren became a champion of Melville as a great American poet and issued a selection of Melville’s poetry in 1971 prefaced by an admiring critical essay. In the 1990s critic Lawrence Buell argued that Melville “is justly said to be nineteenth-century America’s leading poet after Whitman and Dickinson. and Helen Vendler remarked of Clarel: “What it cost Melville to write this poem makes us pause, reading it. Alone, it is enough to win him, as a poet, what he called ‘the belated funeral flower of fame’. Some critics now place him as the first modernist poet in the United States while others assert that his work more strongly suggests what today would be a postmodern view.
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