Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Seeking Enceladus

Last time around we were looking for a natural counterpart to Melville's Enceladus and almost found him in a couple of Berkshire glens: Dalton's Wizard's Glen or "Gulf" as described by Godfrey Greylock, and Ice Glen near Stockbridge. Also called Icy Glen, this Ice-Glen was celebrated in prose and poetry for just the sort of giant moss-topped rocks that Melville describes in the Enceladus dream-vision of Pierre. In verse, Mary M. Chase anticipated Melville's figure of rocks as defeated Titans when she imagined
the Titan rocks gloomy and vast,
Fettered firm to the earth, where in wrath they were cast. --The Ice-Glen at Stockbridge
Icy Glen seems all the more appealing since Melville definitely knew the place and famously had visited there in a company of literary adventurers that included Evert Duyckinck and Nathaniel Hawthorne. As often recounted, Melville and Hawthorne first met that day--August 5, 1850, the day of the unforgettable excursion to Monument Mountain.

Symbolically, critics find Hawthorne all over Pierre (as Plinlimmon, as Isabel), and Mildred K. Travis for one has already interpreted Enceladus as another version of Hawthorne in stone, in "Hawthorne and Melville's Enceladus," ATQ 14 (Spring 1972): 5-6.

We might get there yet (to deep layers of symbolism I mean), but for now the problem is finding a model in the natural world. As widely recognized, Pierre's Memnon Stone also called the Terror Stone closely resembles Balance Rock, a real phenomenon that tourists can still visit and apparently vandalize today. Likewise Pierre's Enceladus dream is supposedly inspired by a real rock in the neighborhood of the Mount of Titans which critics reasonably take to be Greylock. Did Melville have in mind one gigantic rock in particular, or does his imagined Enceladus blend imagery from Wizard's Glen and Ice Glen, Greylock and Monument Mountain? Should we be looking out of state to, say Monadnock?

Melville further particularizes the natural habitat of with topographical and even historical details that I neglected to consider in the previous post. Some clues, especially concerning the early attempt by energetic "young collegians" to dig out the giant rock, might prove essential to any proper quest for Enceladus. Melville's junior archaeologists dig out "a circular well" with picks and spades, "to the depth of some thirteen feet." Williams College seems evoked in this passage--did Geology students or faculty ever do such a thing on an expedition from Williamstown? Leads might be awaiting in Sketches of Williams College and Geological Excursions in the Vicinity of Williams College. And of course we've got to find out what others have discovered already--while I check the newspapers and that promising 1839 gazetteer, JSTOR and why not? Monadnock, let's review the textual clues. Grab a spade if you please and come along...
No more now you sideways followed the sad pasture's skirt, but took your way adown the long declivity, fronting the mystic height. In mid field again you paused among the recumbent sphinx-like shapes thrown off from the rocky steep. You paused; fixed by a form defiant, a form of awfulness. You saw Enceladus the Titan, the most potent of all the giants, writhing from out the imprisoning earth;—turbaned with upborn moss he writhed; still, though armless, resisting with his whole striving trunk, the Pelion and the Ossa hurled back at him;—turbaned with upborn moss he writhed; still turning his unconquerable front toward that majestic mount eternally in vain assailed by him, and which, when it had stormed him off, had heaved his undoffable incubus upon him, and deridingly left him there to bay out his ineffectual howl.
To Pierre this wondrous shape had always been a thing of interest, though hitherto all its latent significance had never fully and intelligibly smitten him. In his earlier boyhood a strolling company of young collegian pedestrians had chanced to light upon the rock; and, struck with its remarkableness, had brought a score of picks and spades, and dug round it to unearth it, and find whether indeed it were a demoniac freak of nature, or some stern thing of antediluvian art. Accompanying this eager party, Pierre first beheld that deathless son of Terra. At that time, in its untouched natural state, the statue presented nothing but the turbaned head of igneous rock rising from out the soil, with its unabasable face turned upward toward the mountain, and the bull-like neck clearly defined. With distorted features, scarred and broken, and a black brow mocked by the upborn moss, Enceladus there subterraneously stood, fast frozen into the earth at the junction of the neck. Spades and picks soon heaved part of his Ossa from him, till at last a circular well was opened round him to the depth of some thirteen feet. At that point the wearied young collegians gave over their enterprise in despair. With all their toil, they had not yet come to the girdle of Enceladus. But they had bared good part of his mighty chest, and exposed his mutilated shoulders, and the stumps of his once audacious arms. Thus far uncovering his shame, in that cruel plight they had abandoned him, leaving stark naked his in vain indignant chest to the defilements of the birds, which for untold ages had cast their foulness on his vanquished crest.

Not unworthy to be compared with that leaden Titan, wherewith the art of Marsy and the broad-flung pride of Bourbon enriched the enchanted gardens of Versailles;—and from whose still twisted mouth for sixty feet the waters yet upgush, in elemental rivalry with those Etna flames, of old asserted to be the malicious breath of the borne-down giant;—not unworthy to be compared with that leaden demi-god—piled with costly rocks, and with one bent wrenching knee protruding from the broken bronze;—not unworthy to be compared with that bold trophy of high art, this American Enceladus, wrought by the vigorous hand of Nature's self, it did go further than compare;—it did far surpass that fine figure molded by the inferior skill of man. Marsy gave arms to the eternally defenseless; but Nature, more truthful, performed an amputation, and left the impotent Titan without one serviceable ball-and-socket above the thigh.

Such was the wild scenery—the Mount of Titans, and the repulsed group of heaven-assaulters, with Enceladus in their midst shamefully recumbent at its base;—such was the wild scenery, which now to Pierre, in his strange vision, displaced the four blank walls, the desk, and camp-bed, and domineered upon his trance. But no longer petrified in all their ignominious attitudes, the herded Titans now sprung to their feet; flung themselves up the slope; and anew battered at the precipice's unresounding wall. Foremost among them all, he saw a moss-turbaned, armless giant, who despairing of any other mode of wreaking his immitigable hate, turned his vast trunk into a battering-ram, and hurled his own arched-out ribs again and yet again against the invulnerable steep.

"Enceladus! it is Enceladus!"—Pierre cried out in his sleep. That moment the phantom faced him; and Pierre saw Enceladus no more; but on the Titan's armless trunk, his own duplicate face and features magnifiedly gleamed upon him with prophetic discomfiture and woe. With trembling frame he started from his chair, and woke from that ideal horror to all his actual grief.  --Pierre, Or, The Ambiguities

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