Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Clarel and Mattie Griffith's "Student"


Self-portrait with Hand on Brow
1910, Käthe Kollwitz
Elbow on knee, and brow sustained
All motionless on sidelong hand,
A student sits, and broods alone.  (Clarel 1.1)
That's Melville's depressed divinity student in the opening canto of Clarel.  Newly arrived in Jerusalem, head on hand Clarel "sits, and broods alone" in his room, at twilight.

At first glance, Clarel looks like he transferred out from the start of Mattie Griffith's poem "The Student":
THE STUDENT.

ALONE he sat.  His broad and lofty brow
Was bent upon his thin, pale hand...
Griffith's student sits "All alone" at twilight and mournfully contemplates successive deaths of dear loved ones, seemingly his entire family.  He covets and wins fame which fails, however, to cure his inward grieving.

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