by Herman Melville
Of old, if legend truth aver,
With hearts that did in aim concur,
Three mitred kings — Amerrian,
Apelius, and Damazon —
By miracle in Cassak met
(An Indian city, bards infer);
Thence, prompted by the vision yet
To find the new-born Lord nor err,
Westward their pious feet they set —
With gold and frankincense and myrrh
Nor failed they, though by deserts vast
And voids and menaces they passed:
They failed not, for a light was given —
The light and pilotage of heaven:
A light, a lead, no longer won
By any, now, who seekers are:
Or fable is it? but if none,
Let man lament the foundered Star.
And Kedron's pilgrims: In review
The wilds receive those guests anew
Yet ere, the Manger now to win,
Their desert march they re-begin,
Belated leaving Saba's tower;
Reverted glance they grateful throw,
Nor slight the abbot's parting dower
Whose benedictions with them go.
Nor did the sinner of the isle
From friendly cheer refrain, though lax:
" Our Lady of the Vines beguile
Your travel and bedew your tracks!"
Blithe wishes, which slim mirth bestow;
For, ah, with chill at heart they mind
Two now for ever left behind.
But as men drop, replacements rule:
Though fleeting be each part assigned,
The eternal ranks of life keep full:
So here — if but in small degree —
Recruits for fallen ones atone;
The Arnaut and pilgrim from the sea
The muster joining; also one
In military undress dun —
A stranger quite.
The Arnaut rode
For escort mere. His martial stud
A brother seemed — as strong as he,
As brave in trappings, and with blood
As proud, and equal gravity,
Reserving latent mettle. Good
To mark the rider in his seat —
Tall, shapely, powerful and complete;
Alean, too, in an easy way,
Like Pisa's Tower confirmed in place,
Nor lacking in subordinate grace
Of lighter beauty. Truth to say,
This horseman seemed to waive command:
Abeyance of the bridle-hand.
But winning space more wide and clear,
He showed in ostentation here
How but a pulse conveyed through rein
Could thrill and fire, or prompt detain.
On dappled steed, in kilt snow-white,
With burnished arms refracting light,
He orbits round the plodding train.
Djalea in quiet seat observes;
'Tis little from his poise he swerves;
Sedate he nods, as he should say:
Rough road may tame this holiday
Of thine; but pleasant to look on:
Come, that 's polite! for on the wing,
Or in suspense of curveting
Chiron salutes the Emir's son.
Meantime, remiss, with dangling sword,
Upon a cloistral beast but sad,
A Saba friar's befitting pad
(His own steed, having sprained a cord,
Left now behind in convent ward)
The plain-clad soldier, heeding none
Though marked himself, in neutral tone
Maintained his place. His shoulders lithe
Were long-sloped and yet ample, too,
In keeping with each limb and thew:
Waist flexile as a willow withe;
Withal, a slouched reserve of strength,
As in the pard's luxurious length;
The cheek, high-boned, of copperish show
Enhanced by sun on land and seas;
Long hair, much like a Cherokee's,
Curving behind the ear in flow
And veiling part a sabre-scar
Slant on the neck, a livid bar;
Nor might the felt hat hide from view
One temple pitted with strange blue
Of powder-burn. Of him you 'd say —
A veteran, no more. But nay:
Brown eyes, what reveries they keep —
Sad woods they be, where wild things sleep.
Hereby, and by yet other sign,
To Rolfe, and Clarel part, and Vine,
The stranger stood revealed, confessed
A native of the fair South-West —
Their countryman, though of a zone
Varied in nature from their own:
A countryman — but how estranged!
Nor any word as yet exchanged
With them. But yester-evening's hour
Then first he came to Saba's tower,
And saw the Epirot aside
In conference, and word supplied
Touching detention of the troop
Destined to join him for the swoop
Over Jordan. But the pilgrims few
Knew not hereof, not yet they knew,
But deemed him one who took his way
Eccentric in an armed survey
On the pearl-gray ass
(From Siddim riderless, alas!)
Rode now the timoneer sedate,
Jogging beneath the Druze's lee,
As well he might, instructed late
What perils in lack of convoy be.
A frater-feeling of the sea
Influenced Rolfe, and made him take
Solace with him of salt romance,
Albeit Agath scarce did wake
To full requital — chill, perchance
Derived from years or diffidence;
Howe'er, in friendly way Rolfe plied
As on they ride
And o'er the ridge begin to go,
A parting glance they turn; and lo!
The convent's twin towers disappear —
Engulfed like a brig's masts below
Submerging waters. Thence they steer
Upward anew, in lane of steeps —
Ravine hewn out, as 'twere by sledges;
Enwalled, from ledges unto ledges,
And stepwise still, each rider creeps.
Until, at top, their eyes behold
Judaea in highlands far unrolled.
A horseman so, in easier play
Wheeling aloft (so travellers say)
Up the Moor's Tower, may outlook gain
From saddle over Seville's plain.
But here, 'twixt tent-lapped hills, they see,
Northward, a land immovably
Haggard and haggish, specked gray-green —
Pale tint of those frilled lichens lean,
Which on a prostrate pine ye view,
When fallen from the banks of grace
Down to the sand-pit's sterile place,
Blisters supplant the beads of dew.
Canker and palmer-worm both must
Famished have left those fields of rust:
The rain is powder — land of dust:
There few do tarry, none may live —
Save mad, possessed, or fugitive.
Exalted in accursed estate,
Like Naaman in his leprous plight
Haughty before Elisha's gate,
Show the blanched hills.
All now alight
Upon the Promethean ledge.
The Druze stands by the imminent edge
Peering, and rein in hand. With head
Over her master's shoulder laid,
The mare, too, gazed, nor feared a check,
Though leaning half her lovesome neck,
Yet lightly, as a swan might do.
An arm Djalea enfolding stretched,
While sighs the sensitive creature fetched,
As e'en that waste to sorrow moved
Instinctive. So, to take the view
See man and mare, lover and loved.
Slant palm to brow against the haze,
Meantime the salt one sent his gaze
As from the mast-head o'er the pale
Expanse. But what may eyes avail?
Land lone as seas without a sail.
" Wreck, ho — the wreck!" Not unamazed
They hear his sudden outcry. Crazed?
Or subject yet by starts dismayed
To flighty turns, for friars said
Much wandered he in mind when low.
But never Agath heeded them:
Forth did his levelled finger go
And, fixing, pointed: " See ye, see?
'Way over where the gray hills be;
Yonder — no, there — that upland dim:
Wreck, ho! the wreck — Jerusalem!"
" Keen-sighted art thou!" said Djalea,
Confirming him; " ay, it is there"
Then Agath, that excitement gone,
Relapsed into his quiet tone.
Last updated January 14, 2019