Document Type


Date of Award



Melville, Herman, Clarel, American poetry, 19th century, Criticism and interpretation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


English, General Literature, and Rhetoric

First Advisor

William B. Stein

Second Advisor

Zack Bowen

Third Advisor

Vincent Freimarck


Though critics have completely disregarded their presence (Arvin, for example), or relegated them to a minor position, the satellite poems are one of the most important devices that Melville uses in Clarel. Forty-five in number (if one includes the bits of song that are present), they appear in a variety of forms at strategic points within the work. Melville, for example, introduces bawdy lyrics, a recitative, love songs, hymns, variations of the nursery rhyme and the traditional ballad, chants, a mystical inscription, several boisterous drinking songs, and a dirge.

Regarding the larger framework of the poem proper, the satellite poems operate reciprocally: receiving their meaning from the context in which they appear, they, in turn, contribute meaning to their immediate context, and thus to the entire work. In arranging this construct, Melville assigns a number of specific functions to his attendant poems. Recited, sung, or sometimes written by one of Clarel‘s guides, they provide an insight into the character presenting the piece, and generally afford the young seeker an opportunity to receive information beneficial to him in approaching a solution to his problem. Often Melville uses the poems to record an oblique comment on Clarel's problem, or to reflect a facet of one of the work's major themes. In short, the functions of the satellite poems remain almost as diverse as their quantity.

Because of their importance to the meaning of Clarel, the satellite poems warrant more than a cursory inspection. They deserve the attention of an extended study that will assess their function in relation to the problem of the student, the guides presenting them, and the context in which they are found. It is this study that I have undertaken in the pages that follow.