Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Quiz

From where have I quoted these lines?

They are from Clarel by Herman Melville.

I found them here.

Clarel? It was suggested to me by this article.

In brief:

Melville’s long poem Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land (1876) was the last full-length book he published. Until the mid-twentieth century even the most partisan of Melville’s advocates hesitated to endure a four-part poem of 150 cantos and almost 18,000 lines about a naive American named Clarel, on pilgrimage through the Palestinian ruins with a provocative cluster of companions.

And this is an insight:

Clarel carries the erotic theme all the way through to the conclusion of the poem; and, moreover, it attempts to answer the question of why the erotic and the metaphysical should be interrelated in the first place. Clarel, its protagonist, is a young divinity student who goes to Jerusalem to assuage some vague religious unease. In the Holy City he meets and falls in love with Ruth, a beautiful young Jewish girl. Ruth's father Nathan is an American who had married a Jewish-American girl, Agar, and converted to her religion. Espousing his new faith even more than his new wife, he has emigrated with his reluctant spouse and daughter to Palestine. He is hostile to Clarel, while the homesick Agar likes the youth. Thus when Nathan is murdered by marauding Arabs, Clarel's romantic prospects change for the better.

Clarel's reaction to the improvement in his fortunes demonstrates a deep ambivalence which, so long as the affair had been potential only, was not brought into play. Hearing of the killing, he immediately decides to depart the next morning on a pilgrimage which has been organized by some of his friends. His pretext is that because the women are shut away from him in ritual mourning, he cannot bear the solitude of Jerusalem. On the pilgrimage, the poem's foreground is occupied by discourses among the pilgrims on such topics as science, faith, and politics. It would appear that the romantic situation has been jettisoned. And the very few interpreters of Clarel--for it is a poem of over 18,000 bumpy, clangorous lines-are unanimous in viewing the love story as a clumsy frame, all the more clumsy because it occupies the entire first quarter (one out of four books) of the poem. [1]

But because in Clarel the evasive nature of the protagonist's behavior is recognized, the abandonment of love becomes part of the plot itself. The events of the pilgrimage and the incredible quantity of talk in the poem are elaborated against, and referred back to, the motivating event: Clarel's flight from Ruth. Thus the intellectual and erotic dimensions of the situation are integrated...

If you are interested, try this.


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