Herman Melville

Harrison Hayford, Alma A. MacDougall, Hershel Parker, and G. Thomas Tanselle (eds), The Writings of Herman Melville: The Northwestern-Newberry Edition, Vol. 12: Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land

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29. By the Marge

  • 1The legend round a Grecian urn,
  • 2The sylvan legend, though decay
  • 3Have wormed the garland all away,
  • 4And fire have left its Vandal burn;
  • 5Yet beauty inextinct may charm
  • 6In outline of the vessel's form.
  • 7Much so with Sodom, shore and sea.
  • Editor’s Note8Fair Como would like Sodom be
  • 9Should horror overrun the scene
  • 10And calcine all that makes it green,
  • 11Yet haply sparing to impeach
  • 12The contour in its larger reach.
  • 13In graceful lines the hills advance,
  • pg 23114The valley's sweep repays the glance,
  • 15And wavy curves of winding beach;
  • Editor’s Note16But all is charred or crunched or riven,
  • 17Scarce seems of earth whereon we dwell;
  • 18Though framed within the lines of heaven
  • 19The picture intimates a hell.
  • 20      That marge they win. Bides Mortmain there?
  • 21No trace of man, not anywhere.
  • 22      It was the salt wave's northern brink.
  • 23No gravel bright nor shell was seen,
  • 24Nor kelpy growth nor coralline,
  • 25But dead boughs stranded, which the rout
  • 26Of Jordan, in old freshets born
  • Editor’s Note27In Libanus, had madly torn
  • 28Green from her arbor and thrust out
  • 29Into the liquid waste. No sound
  • 30Nor motion but of sea. The land
  • 31Was null: nor bramble, weed, nor trees,
  • 32Nor anything that grows on ground,
  • 33Flexile to indicate the breeze;
  • Editor’s Note34Though hitherward by south winds fanned
  • 35From Usdum's brink and Bozrah's site
  • 36Of bale, flew gritty atoms light.
  • 37Toward Karek's castle lost in blur,
  • 38And thence beyond toward Aroer
  • 39By Arnon where the robbers keep,
  • 40Jackal and vulture, eastward sweep
  • 41The waters, while their western rim
  • 42Stretches by Judah's headlands grim,
  • 43Which make in turns a sea-wall steep.
  • 44There, by the cliffs or distance hid,
  • 45The Fount or Cascade of the Kid
  • 46An Eden makes of one high glen,
  • 47One vernal and contrasted scene
  • 48In jaws of gloomy crags uncouth—
  • 49Rosemary in the black boar's mouth.
  • 50Alike withheld from present view
  • 51(And, until late, but hawk and kite
  • Critical Apparatus52Visited the forgotten site),
  • pg 23253The Maccabees' Masada true;
  • 54Stronghold which Flavian arms did rend,
  • 55The Peak of Eleazer's end,
  • 56Where patriot warriors made with brides
  • 57A martyrdom of suicides.
  • Editor’s Note58There too did Mariamne's hate
  • 59The death of John accelerate.
  • 60A crag of fairest, foulest weather—
  • 61Famous, and infamous together.
  • 62      Hereof they spake, but never Vine,
  • 63Who little knew or seemed to know
  • 64Derived from books, but did incline
  • 65In docile way to each one's flow
  • 66Of knowledge bearing anyhow
  • Editor’s Note67In points less noted.
  • Southernmost
  • 68The sea indefinite was lost
  • 69Under a catafalque of cloud.
  • 70      Unwelcome impress to disown
  • 71Or light evade, the priest, aloud
  • 72Taking an interested tone
  • Editor’s Note73And brisk, "Why, yonder lies Mount Hor,
  • 74E'en thereaway—that southward shore."
  • 75      "Ay," added Rolfe, "and Aaron's cell
  • 76Thereon. A mountain sentinel,
  • 77He holds in solitude austere
  • Editor’s Note78The outpost of prohibited Seir
  • 79In cut-off Edom."
  • "God can sever!"
  • 80Brake in the saint, who nigh them stood;
  • Editor’s Note81"The satyr to the dragon's brood
  • 82Crieth! God's word abideth ever:
  • 83None there pass through—no, never, never!"
  • 84      "My friend Max Levi, he passed through."
  • 85They turned. It was the hardy Jew.
  • 86Absorbed in vision here, the saint
  • 87Heard not. The priest in flushed constraint
  • 88Showed mixed emotion; part he winced
  • 89And part a humor pleased evinced—
  • pg 23390Relish that would from qualms be free—
  • 91Aversion involved with sympathy.
  • 92But changing, and in formal way—
  • 93"Admitted; nay, 'tis tritely true;
  • 94Men pass thro' Edom, through and through.
  • 95But surely, few so dull to-day
  • 96As not to make allowance meet
  • Critical Apparatus97For Orientalism's display
  • 98In Scripture, where the chapters treat
  • 99Of mystic themes."
  • With eye askance,
  • 100The apostate fixed no genial glance:
  • 101"Ay, Keith's grown obsolete. And, pray,
  • 102How long will these last glosses stay?
  • 103The agitating influence
  • 104Of knowledge never will dispense
  • 105With teasing faith, do what ye may.
  • 106Adjust and readjust, ye deal
  • 107With compass in a ship of steel."
  • 108      "Such perturbations do but give
  • 109Proof that faith's vital: sensitive
  • 110Is faith, my friend."
  • "Go to, go to:
  • 111Your black bat! how she hangs askew,
  • 112Torpid, from wall by claws of wings:
  • 113Let drop the left—sticks fast the right;
  • 114Then this unhook—the other swings;
  • 115Leave—she regains her double plight."
  • Editor’s Note116      "Ah, look," cried Derwent; "ah, behold!"
  • 117From the blue battlements of air,
  • 118Over saline vapors hovering there,
  • 119A flag was flung out—curved in fold—
  • 120Fiery, rosy, violet, green—
  • 121And, lovelier growing, brighter, fairer,
  • 122Transfigured all that evil scene;
  • 123And Iris was the standard-bearer.
  • 124      None spake. As in a world made new,
  • 125With upturned faces they review
  • 126That oriflamme, the which no man
  • pg 234127Would look for in such clime of ban.
  • 128'Twas northern; and its home-like look
  • 129Touched Nehemiah. He, late with book
  • 130Gliding from Margoth's dubious sway,
  • 131Was standing by the ass apart;
  • 132And when he caught that scarf of May
  • 133How many a year ran back his heart:
  • 134Scythes hang in orchard, hay-cocks loom
  • 135After eve-showers, the mossed roofs gloom
  • 136Greenly beneath the homestead trees;
  • 137He tingles with these memories.
  • 138      For Vine, over him suffusive stole
  • 139An efflorescence; all the soul
  • 140Flowering in flush upon the brow.
  • 141But 'twas ambiguously replaced
  • 142In words addressed to Clarel now—
  • 143"Yonder the arch dips in the waste;
  • 144Thither! and win the pouch of gold."
  • 145      Derwent reproached him: "ah, withhold!
  • 146See, even death's pool reflects the dyes—
  • 147The rose upon the coffin lies!"
  • 148      "Brave words," said Margoth, plodding near;
  • 149"Brave words; but yonder bow's forsworn.
  • 150The covenant made on Noah's morn,
  • 151Was that well kept? why, hardly here,
  • 152Where whelmed by fire and flood, they say,
  • 153The townsfolk sank in after day,
  • 154Yon sign in heaven should reappear."
  • 155      They heard, but in such torpid gloom
  • 156Scarcely they recked, for now the bloom
  • 157Vanished from sight, and half the sea
  • 158Died down to glazed monotony.
  • 159      Craved solace here would Clarel prove,
  • 160Recalling Ruth, her glance of love.
  • 161But nay; those eyes so frequent known
  • 162To meet, and mellow on his own—
  • 163Now, in his vision of them, swerved;
  • 164While in perverse recurrence ran
  • 165Dreams of the bier Armenian.
  • pg 235166Against their sway his soul he nerved:
  • 167"Go, goblins; go, each funeral thought—
  • 168Bewitchment from this Dead Sea caught!"
  • 169      Westward they move, and turn the shore
  • 170Southward, till, where wild rocks are set,
  • 171Dismounting, they would fain restore
  • 172Ease to the limb. But haunts them yet
  • 173A dumb dejection lately met.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
2.29.8    Fair Como would like Sodom be] In his 1856–57 journal, Melville wrote of the Dead Sea: "Mountains on tother side—Lake George—all but verdure" (p. 83). But later (presumably after he had spent a day at Lake Como, Journals, pp. 121–22) he crossed out "George" and penciled in "Como".
Editor’s Note
2.29.16    charred or crunched or riven] Compare with the 1856–57 journal on the "Barrenness of Judea": "crunched, knawed, & mumbled" (p. 83).
Editor’s Note
2.29.27    Libanus] Lebanon. Stanley, p. 287, also describes "trunks and branches of trees, torn down from the thickets of the river-jungle by the violence of the Jordan, thrust out into the sea, and thrown up again by its waves." See the illustration on p. 788 below.
Editor’s Note
2.29.34    hitherward by south winds] The narrator, under the spell of the mountainous desolation about the sea, now chants in Miltonic style the names of ancient biblical sites to the south: the salt hills of Usdum at the southernmost tip of the sea, and, beyond, Bozrah's site, the destroyed capital of the Edom wastes (line 35); then, far up the east shore, Karek's castle, the great fortified citadel on the very top of a mountain (line 37), and another ancient city, Aroer, on the bank of the precipitous river Arnon that plunges down a chasm to the sea through lands where "robbers often waylay travellers" (lines 38–39: Murray, II, 301); then, halfway down the east shore, the Cascade of the Kid (line 45: which Stanley, p. 289, calls "the spring of the wild goats, or gazelles") at En-Gedi, a high and beautiful oasis; and just south of En-Gedi, the Maccabees' Masada (line 53). The epic of Masada was not a Bible story but was recorded by Josephus in The Wars of the Jews (trans. Whiston), bk. 7, chaps. 8–9; it told how Eleazer (line 55), leader of 967 Jews locked up in the great fortress built by Jonathan Maccabeus (line 53), and hopelessly besieged by massive Roman forces under Flavius Silva ("Flavian arms," line 54), persuaded the garrison of men, women, and children (all but seven) to make a mass suicide rather than be captured. The story is related by Murray, I, 239–42.
Critical Apparatus
2.29.52     site),  NN     ~).
Editor’s Note
2.29.58    Mariamne's hate] Matthew 14 attributes the death of John the Baptist to the hatred of Herodias, the wife Herod Antipas took from his brother; but there are several Mariamnes of Judaic history related to the Herods. John was imprisoned in the castle at Machaerus, a fortress on the east shore of the Dead Sea.
Editor’s Note
2.29.67    In] Possibly this word should be "On", for the two words are often indistinguishable, except by context, in Melville's manuscripts. But the "In" is possibly idiomatic, and NN retains it.
Editor’s Note
2.29.73    Mount Hor] Numbers 20.22–29 tells how Aaron (line 75) was not allowed to enter the Promised Land but went up on Mt. Hor and died there.
Editor’s Note
2.29.78–79    prohibited Seir / In cut-off Edom] The whole passage (to line 102) centers in a historic debate. Edom (Greek Idumea; also known as Mt. Seir) was a mountain region, some one hundred miles long and twenty miles wide running north and south about halfway between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Akaba. A terra incognita until the nineteenth century, it was taken to be impassable because of God's several curses upon it and the command that "none shall pass through it for ever and ever" (Isa. 34.10). Alexander Keith (line 101) in his Evidence of the Truth of the Christian Religion Derived from the Literal Fulfillment of Prophecy (New York: Harper, 1839), pp. 135–68, stated the rigid case that no man ever would go through Edom because of the prophecy; first published in Edinburgh in 1838, the book went through over thirty English and American reprintings and revisions in twenty years. Nehemiah accepts this position. Margoth is correct however; in 1812 Burckhardt (see the discussion at 1.40.79) went through Edom, discovering Petra, and soon others followed. The American traveler John Lloyd Stephens went through "braving the malediction of Heaven" and melodramatically refuting the school of Keith all the way (Incidents of Travel inthe Holy Land [New York: Harper, 1837], II, 35, 85, 110). Still another work discounts Keith's prophecy on the ground that a literal interpretation of the Bible is impossible in view of its orientalism (line 97): Rev. James Aitken Wylie, The Modern Judea (Glasgow: Collins, 1841), p. 472.
Editor’s Note
2.29.81–82    The satyr to the dragon's brood / Crieth] Isaiah 13.19–22 prophesies the desolation of Babylon "shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.… It shall never be inhabited … and satyrs shall dance there. And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons in their pleasant palaces."
Critical Apparatus
2.29.97     display  HM     play
Editor’s Note
2.29.116    Ah, look] For Melville's 1856–57 journal comment on a rainbow over the Dead Sea see the discussion at 2.39.131. Iris (line 123) was the Greek goddess of the rainbow. Margoth's wry comment on the "covenant" with Noah (line 150) is a double misreading of Genesis 9.8–17 (a misreading which Melville seems also to have preferred): the covenant was that "all flesh" would not be destroyed by a flood; and Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed not by flood but by "brimstone and fire" (Gen. 19.24).
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