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Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land

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Poem in 150 cantos by Melville, published in two volumes in 1876. Using the setting he observed on a trip to Palestine (1857), Melville treats the problems of a modern culture not based on religion, and the resultant spiritual and psychological turmoil of its peoples. The narrative describes the experiences of a young American theological student, Clarel, who, while visiting Jerusalem, falls in love with Ruth, a Zionist, and recounts his travels with various pilgrims to the great sites of the region. His fellows include a man deformed in body and spirit who doubts his Roman Catholic faith. an Anglican clergyman with easy belief in the goodness of man and nature, a cynic who feels the emulation of Christ leads but to destruction, an apostate Jew whose scientism is used to attack religion, and an American of great moral qualities and aesthetic sensitivity but without clear commitments. Despite lengthy philosophic conversations. Clarel is unable to resolve his religious uncertainties, and he returns on Ash Wednesday to the grief of finding Ruth dead.

Subjects: Literature

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Herman Melville (1819—1891) American novelist and short-story writer