Melville in Jerusalem


Herman Melville was not a happy camper after Moby Dick was panned by critics and failed to have any financial success (only 3100 copies were sold during his lifetime), but instead of pouting about it in America, he pouted about it in Jerusalem.

David Sugarman writes about the post-humously famed author’s trip to the Holy Land and the poem that became of it, Clarel: A Poem and  Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Much like Melville, the main character of the poem, a spiritually anxious theology student, has all kinds absurd and ultimately deflating moments on his journey. The level of Melville’s disenchantment, Sugarman writes, is sometimes so bleak as to be comical:

“Stones of Judea. We read a good deal about stones in Scriptures. Monuments & stumps of the memorials are set up of stones; men are stoned to death; the figurative seed falls in stony places; and no wonder that stones should so largely figure in the Bible. Judea is one accumulation of stones—stony mountains & stony plains; stony torrents & stony roads; stony walls & stony fields, stony houses & stony tombs; stony eyes & stony hearts. Before you and behind you are stones. Stones to the right & stones to the left.”


Graham Todd is an intern at The Rumpus. He spends his mornings writing post-apocalyptic, vaguely biblical sci-fi horror comedy, his evenings tutoring the wide-eyed youth of the Palo Alto area, and his Thursdays at The Rumpus office, effectively “off the streets”. Beyond this weekly ritual, he enjoys karaoke, the movies, and jogging. More from this author →