Sunday, February 5, 2017

Progress Report

This my friends is genuine progress:
"The difference between the puzzle-poems’ posing of their clue and the lyricism of the more famous lines is easily recognizable...."  --MacDonald P. Jackson
MacDonald P. Jackson's appreciation for the evident LYRICISM of those splendid lines about moonlight and snow makes me warm and tingly all over. Boy was I wrong, Jackson does know how to read poetry! He's well on his way now to seeing the truth, that apart from meter, the delightfully clever poetry of the great American patriot Henry Livingston, Jr. has just nothing in the world to do with Clement C. Moore's poem "A Visit From St Nicholas." I'm so happy right now, I almost don't mind that Jackson says nothing in his ten-page Response about Louis Armstrong or Aaron Neville.

Melvilliana is here to help. Next assignment, due in my inbox on Valentine's Day: Find one "Homeric" or anywise extended simile in the entire corpus of Henry Livingston's known poetry, something remotely comparable to the following example from Clement C. Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas":
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So, up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys—and St. Nicholas too.  --The Poets and Poetry of America
If you're playing at home, here's a serviceable definition from Encyclopædia Britannica:
Epic simile, also called Homeric simile, an extended simile often running to several lines, used typically in epic poetry to intensify the heroic stature of the subject and to serve as decoration. An example from the Iliad follows:
As when the shudder of the west wind suddenly rising scatters across the water,
and the water darkens beneath it, so darkening were settled the ranks of Achaians and Trojans in the plain.
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  1. Every Melville fan loves a good Homeric simile. ("As strange misgrown masses gather in the knot-holes of the noblest oaks when prostrate, so from the points which the whale's eyes had once occupied, now protruded blind bulbs.")

    By coincidence, just the other day I was looking for research on Melville and Homer, and found this:

    Jones, J.B. 1999. "As in the hurricane...some lone, gigantic elm"; Melville's use of similes in Moby-Dick. The Faculty journal of Komazawa Women's University 6, 55-78.

    Any other pointers to Melville-and-Homer research will be appreciated.

  2. Great examples, thanks. Your project sounds promising! Doubtless you have these already, but off the bat (via JSTOR & Mary K. Bercaw) I find R. W. B. Lewis, "Melville on Homer" in American Literature 22 (May 1950), 166-76; John Satterfield, "Perth: An Organic Digression in Moby-Dick," Modern Language Notes 74 (February 1959), 106-7; Daniel H. Garrison, Melville's Doubloon and the Shield of Achilles in Nineteenth-Century Fiction 26 (September 1971), 171-84; and June W. Allison, "The Similes in Moby-Dick: Homer and Melville," Melville Society Extracts 47 (September 1981), 12-15.

    Mother Marie Laurentina locates one Homeric simile at least in "The Humor in Moby-Dick," Philippine Studies 5.4 (December 1957), 431-442.

    More recently, Bret Zimmerman touches on epic simile when discussing HYPOTAXIS in "Teaching Melville and Style: A Catalogue of Selected Rhetorical Devices," Style 37 (Spring 2003): 47-65.

    You must have Jonathan Cook on epic simile and Bulkington, in Leviathan and I think somewhere in Inscrutable Malice, too. In The Mystery of Iniquity pp. 68-9, William H. Shurr helpfully discusses Homeric simile in Clarel.

    Maybe Daryl L. L. Houston says it best, "Moby-Dick is full of these suckers."

  3. Many thanks for these excellent references. I'm poking around looking for things not just related to stylistic parallels (epic similes in Homer and Melville), but also to parallels in characterization. There may be some character-related Homer-Melville topics that haven't yet been explored as fully as they could be. We shall see.