Reading all of a writer’s work is super awesome and rewarding not just for the insight into a writer’s “project” or even the excellent reading experience itself, but also for the “Easter eggs,” I’ll call them—the unexpected shiny objects that glint back at you only if you’ve been exploring. Melville recycles so much he’s really wonderful for this, and there are not only many familiar motifs but also reappearing details throughout his work, including in Clarel.
But here my favorite source of such a glint was an allusion to another writer’s work—something else Melville does in abundance, of course. And it was an allusion to something I wrote about on this very blog, something that made me reconsider Hawthorne all on its own, even before I knew he was so respected by Melville:
For Vine, from that unchristened earth
Bits he picked up of porous stone,
And crushed in fist: or one by one,
Through the dull void of desert air,
He tossed them into valley down;
Or pelted his own shadow there (3.5)
In “Foot-Prints on the Sea-Shore,” by Hawthorne, the model for Vine:
There lies my shadow in the departing sunshine with its head upon the sea. I will pelt it with pebbles. A hit! A hit!
And this story of Hawthorne seems strangely relevant, if not to the most central themes of Clarel than to many of the ideas in its orbit. Hawthorne’s narrator and his “we” “have been, what few can be, sufficient to our own pastime—yes, say the word outright!—self-sufficient to our own happiness.” As is Vine—and so few others—in Clarel.
And thus ends my portion of the Unstructured Clarel readalong! I feel like I should thank those still reading for bearing with it, if anything, but I do hope it was a positive experience. It was for me. Now, for the Big Question: will she read it again? While reading it, I would have said no. In fact, I did say several times, aloud, things to the effect of, “Man, I’m not re-reading this one.” But now I would have to say, someday—probably.
Title of this post taken from “Foot-Prints on the Sea-Shore.”