When I have composed large cycles in the past, I chart out my associations between the keys signatures of the “circle of fifths” and the color wheel.
For me, especially when setting poetry about nature, there is a quick and easy association between the subjects in the poetry and color, and therefore key.
In this Melville cycle, so much of the imagery was watery (and therefore blue), that I needed a different axis about which to spin my color wheel.
After reading the poems through several times and arranging them into the order of this cycle, it occurred to me how many different emotions
the poet expressed – from the optimism of the beginning, to fear, despair, loneliness, exhaustion, and the joy of making landfall on “The enviable isles.”
When I began to write, I made a list and mapped out Melville’s emotions on a color wheel (using basic associations like red is for anger, blue is for sadness,
etc.). Then, I realized that others much more skillful than I had already done this online.
After encountering something like this, it was easy to assign certain strophes of Melville’s poems to one of twelve color groups, and then, into a key.
For the most part, every key signature is represented in These oceans vast. However, some get a bit more air-time than others.