Sunday, August 1, 2010

Herman Melville: August 1, 1819--September 28, 1891

Today is Herman Melville's birthday, and I thought I would celebrate it with a quotation from one of his writings. I decided that I would try something different and not select one from Moby Dick or Billy Budd or one of his sea tales. I'm sure others will do that. So, here is a quotation from one of Melville's dry land tales, one in which the sea or a ship plays no role.

This quotation is from one of Melville's later novels and, also, one of his bleakest, if not his bleakest: Pierre: or, The Ambiguities. I think this quotation will also provide another look at Melville's writing skills. Surprisingly, at least to me anyway, Melville can pen the prose purple with the best of them (or should I say the worst of them).

Man or woman who has never loved, nor once looked deep down into their own lover's eyes, they know not the sweetest and loftiest religion of this earth. Love is both Creator's and Savior's gospel to mankind; a volume bound in roseleaves, clasped with violets, and by the beaks of humming-birds printed with peach-juice on the leaves of lilies.

-- Herman Melville --
from Pierre: or, The Ambiguities

Something a bit different from Melville.


  1. Is Pierre a satire, or does Melville expect the reader to take this seriously?

  2. Cheryl,

    The first half is rather idyllic, with some ominous undertones, while the second is extremely bleak. The quotation comes from the first part of the novel. Melville may be going a bit overboard here so as to make a strong contrast between the two parts.

    In light of the second half, this certainly is an ironic, if not bitter, commentary on love, especially since it's the Creator's "gospel to mankind."

  3. Thanks very much for selecting something from Pierre rather than the usual fare. I bought a copy of Pierre a few years ago when I was visiting Arrowhead, and I've been meaning to dive into it.

    I had completely forgotten it was Melville's birthday on August 1st.


  4. Michael,

    Thanks for the kind words. Melville has written a number of excellent novels, many of which seldom get out from under the shadow of _Moby Dick_ or _Billy Budd_.

    I have a calendar program in which I include the reminders of birthdays of various people, else I would forget them also.