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Capital letter A. Deuteronomy 34:5

CAT 42 Capital letter A. Deuteronomy 34.5.  Taferelen.  BA 38.jpg

CAT 41. Capital letter A.  Printed as the first letter of Tableau 3 (from Deuteronomy 34:5) in Taferelen der voornaamste geschiedenissen van het Oude en Nieuwe Testament. The Hague: Pieter de Hondt, 1728, 1:147. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

Deuteronomy 34: [5] “So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. [6] And he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab, over against Beth-peor: but no man knoweth of his sepulcher unto this day. [7] And Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died: his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated. [8] And the children of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; so the days of weeping and mourning for Moses were ended.”

The letter A separates the dying Moses from the Promised Land that he was allowed to see but not to enter. Here, as in the scripture, this centurion retains the “natural force” of a much younger man. His posture suggests he is still attuned to the voice of the Lord. The sky is brilliantly divided between light and cloud. In Clarel, gazing toward Pisgah, Derwent laments for “Poor Moses. Saving Jericho / And her famed palms in Mephian row, / No cheerful landscape met thine eye” (NN C 2.14.81-3).

In Saurin’s commentary, “this Tableau seems to put on a mourning garment even after so many centuries. . . . When virtue stands erect, she is attacked by malice, but when she dies, her face is taken away, and she is cried after and looked for. . . . [Moses] was the most mild-mannered and flexible of all the people that live on the face of the earth” (1:147-48). In the “Song” that Moses had spoken to the people of Israel shortly before his death, Melville placed a marginal line next to this verse: “Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations; ask thy father, and he will show you; thy elders, and they will tell you” (Deuteronomy 32:7; Cowen 3:119).