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Rip Van Winkle's Lilac

As with Billy Budd, the composition of “Rip Van Winkle’s Lilac” seems to have begun with the poem that appears at the end. The resulting “poem and prose piece” is an homage to and revision of Washington Irving’s original character, with Rip re-imagined as a kind of poet, consciously or not, whose lilacs take root after his death. Composed at the end of his life, the work projects a future regeneration of the poet’s reputation. It also serves as a principal document concerning Melville’s personal understanding of “the picturesque.” Digital images of the Rip Van Winkle’s Lilac manuscript—located in the Melville Collection of the Modern Books and Manuscript Department at Houghton Library of the Harvard College Library, Harvard University—are displayed here with the permission of Houghton Library.