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“Chafing Against the Metric Bound”: Melville the Poet GORDON M. POOLE Università degli studi l’Orientale, Napoli Candid eyes in open faces Clear, not keen, no narrowing line: Hither turn your favoring graces Now the cloth is drawn for wine. (Melville, “Hostelry” and “Bomba” 7) T hat’s the Marquis of Grandvin talking at the opening of “At the Hostelry,” which is to say, it’s the wine talking. The Marquis is, typically, one of Melville’s not completely reliable narrators. Melville himself was in favor of the narrowing line of careful, open-minded scrutiny. But he was also in favor of the wine. I like to think of him as the lone toper in the upper room at Delmonico’s in “At the Hostelry,” summoning up the shades of bygone painters and sculptors of different times and places, letting them expound and argue. I cannot offer you any wine, but wine or not, our conference, too, is a kind of symposium. Like the artists in the upper room, we have a shared subject. Theirs was the picturesque, ours is Melville. And like them, we inevitably and rightly infuse our chosen subjects with other concerns: ideological, religious, ethical, philosophical, philological, political. The subject underlying the debate on the picturesque was political power—its uses and abuses—and the role of the artist in society and in relation to the “power structure,” as we called it in Berkeley in the 1960s. Like the artists in the upper room, we are from many different countries, and we have all imbibed deeply from Melville’s texts. The community of scholars to which we belong goes beyond those physically present here. It includes those who could not come and those whose flickering presence can be made possible by the modern miracle of skype. It even extends to those who have passed on but whose company we still keep; our thoughts in this moment go especially to Walter Bezanson. And, like the lone toper, our heads are filled with characters: each of us has his or her own evocation of Herman Melville, and along with him, there are our Billy Budds, our Ahabs, our Redburns, Jack Gentians, Captain Veres, Jack Chases, Dr. Cadwallader Cuticles, Clarels, and c  2012 The Melville Society and Wiley Periodicals, Inc. L E V I A T H A N A J O U R N A L O F M E L V I L L E S T U D I E S 81 G O R D O N M . P O O L E all the other shades who inhabit our fantasies. And we have come to Melville from different directions and for different reasons. Sometimes geography is destiny. Naples brought me to Melville. I drove into Naples in early September, 1957, on my 125cc German DKW motorcycle on which, incredibile dictu, I had crossed the Alps. I landed in the middle of the Festa di Piedigrotta, which was a big folk holiday in Naples back then. Only I, in my naiveté, did not know it was the Festa di Piedigrotta. I had been told that Neapolitans were—how to say—a bit over the top. So I assumed that they always behaved that way, playing barbarous (so to speak) instruments, singing, dancing in the streets, eating, drinking, making merry. Coming from Puritanical New England, I did not really know what the expression “making merry” meant, a linguistic leftover from “merry old England,” until I came to Naples. While merry was being made, donkeys were braying, horses were neighing, carts with enormous wheels were clattering over the basalt paving stones. What a place! As Jack Gentian naively put it, before he savvied up: True freedom is to be care-free! And care-free seem the people here, A truce indeed they seem to keep, Gay truce to care and all her brood. (Melville, “Hostelry” and “Bomba” 47) I have quoted from “Naples in the Time of Bomba,” but in 1957 I had never heard of this poem. (Unlike Woody Allen’s Zelig, I actually had read Moby-Dick.) But at the time I did not know that Herman Melville had come to Naples one hundred years before...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1750-1849
Print ISSN
1525-6995
Pages
pp. 81-93
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-29
Open Access
No
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