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.
But modern critics have found Clarel a much better poem than was ever realized. Robert Penn Warren called it a precursor of The Waste Land. It abounds with revelations of Melville’s inner life. Most strikingly, it is argued that the character Vine is a portrait of Melville’s friend Nathaniel Hawthorne. Clarel is one of the most complex theological explorations of faith and doubt in all of American literature, and this edition brings Melville’s poem to new life.