MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Herman Melville at 200

Born Herman Melvill 200 years ago on this day, the writer I have idolized since I first got seriously into literature went largely unrecognized during his own lifetime, apart from his early commercial success.

“There is no knowing Herman Melville,” writes Jill Lepore in her profile in the current issue of The New Yorker. “He needed to write. He wanted to be read. He could not bear to be seen.”

She quotes Melville’s famous metaphor for the creative act:

Taking a book off the brain is akin to the ticklish & dangerous business of taking an old painting off a panel — you have to scrape off the whole brain in order to get at it with due safety — & even then, the painting may not be worth the trouble.

Here’s a motley assortment of reflections on the unknowable, unfathomably fascinating Melville:

–a trove of links and information from the Melville Society

–Melvilliana: Clement C. Moore’s blog on all things Melville

–from Deutsche Welle, a consideration of Melville’s modernity from a European perspective

–on the inspiration of Mount Greylock from his window as Melville wrote Moby-Dick

–And a nod to Melville the poet:


In placid hours well-pleased we dream
Of many a brave unbodied scheme.
But form to lend, pulsed life create,
What unlike things must meet and mate:
A flame to melt—a wind to freeze;
Sad patience—joyous energies;
Humility—yet pride and scorn;
Instinct and study; love and hate;
Audacity—reverence. These must mate,
And fuse with Jacob’s mystic heart,
To wrestle with the angel—Art.

Filed under: literature, Melville


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