Clarel, a Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land

Clarel, a Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land

Clarel, a Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land

Clarel, a Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land

Excerpt

The present edition aims to provide first of all a text that is obtainable and accurate. There have been only two previous printings of Clarel. The American first edition in two volumes issued by G. P. Putnam's Sons (1876) is now excessively rare. The English edition, included as Volumes XIV and XV (1924) in Constable and Company's limited edition of The Works of Herman Melville (1922-1924), not only is out of print but presents a text completely Anglicized in spelling and punctuation. The present text is that of the first American, with typographical errors corrected, inconsistencies reduced, and Melville's own minor revisions (for the first time) incorporated. Format, but not text, has been modernized to the extent described in the Textual Notes. All variations from the first edition have also been recorded in the Textual Notes.

Since Clarel is a difficult poem--in its setting, allusions, and great variety of characters and themes--the second aim has been to provide aids to the reader. The Introduction, after recounting the circumstances and moods which generated Clarel and surveying past and recent criticism, offers possible appraisals of the poem as art, history, and biography. Reference materials at the end of the poem include two maps and a critical index to ten major and twenty-two minor characters of the poem. The Explanatory Notes identify geographical and historical allusions and expose the principal layers of personal experience and reading that underlie the poem; occasionally they offer explication.

I have not hesitated to offer interpretation. Any edition providing aids begins to be an act of criticism; though there is a duty to avoid dogma and intrusiveness, it is specious to mask the point of view. My interest in the poem began with an interpretive study, Herman Melville's Clarel, an unpublished doctoral dissertation at Yale University, 1943. Having lived with Clarel about as long as Melville did while he was making it, I can testify that it is a pyramid of a poem; there is little danger . . .

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