De Clytie, vulgo Pansie (n.d.)

An obscure poem, which appears to be based on the the folk-traditional name of the pansy, the 'stepmother-flower' - Stiefmütterchen in German - reflecting the fact that the main petal of the five seems to have preferred two of its 'offspring' over the other two, which are hence seen as step-daughters (we are very grateful to Jamie Reid-Baxter for this insight). This seems like an uncharacteristically trivial topic for Melville to write upon, unless the piece is given an 'antichristian' gloss and 'Clytie' or 'Pansie', dressed in imperial purple, is the pope. In this reading, the 'offspring' given violet outfits are bishops, while the 'stepdaughters' given scarlet ones are cardinals. However, what Melville's ultimate point is in the closing lines is not entirely clear. Other poems about Clytie were written by Thomas Craig (d1_CraT_010) and John Leech (Epigrammata (1620), IV.58; this has been translated by Dana F. Sutton and is available online at The Philological Museum). The former potentially supports an 'antichristian' reading, but the message of the latter is more obscure, though it shares the discussion of a stepmother ('noverca'), daughters and step-daughters. Metre: elegiac couplets.

Link to an image of this page  [p114]

De Clytie, vulgo Pansie

Unica privignas geminas prolemque gemellam,
seque sua Clytie Daedala pingit acu.
Coccina privignis, proli dat ianthina mater,
quam Phrygius Tyrio murice velat honos.
Prolem privignis, praehabet se utrisque: alienis
plurima, rara suis, nulla noverca sibi.

Link to an image of this page  [p114]

On 'Clytie', known in the vernacular as 'Pansy'

The singular Clytie embroiders her twin step-daughters and her twin offspring, and herself, with her skilled needle. The mother, whom Phrygian a honour envelops with Tyrian purple, b gives violet-coloured things to her offspring, and scarlet ones to her step-daughters. She places preference on her offspring above her stepdaughters, and herself above both: for she is a stepmother to the outsiders, rarely to her own daughters, and never to herself.



a: Metonymically used here to suggest they are 'embroidered', as Phrygian slaves were 'marked' with tattoos.

b: Tyre, a major city in Southern Phoenicia, was famous for the production of imperial purple dye from the shells of the murex, a local mollusc, which grew brighter and stronger with exposure to sunlight, rather than fading like most ancient dyes.