1. In the Mountain -

by Herman Melville

Herman Melville

What reveries be in yonder heaven
Whither, if yet faith rule it so,
The tried and ransomed natures flow?
If there peace after strife be given
Shall hearts remember yet and know?
Thy vista, Lord, of havens dear,
May that in such entrancement bind
That never starts a wandering tear
For wail and willow left behind?
Then wherefore, chaplet, quivering throw
A dusk e'en on the martyr's brow
You crown? Do seraphim shed balm
At last on all of earnest mind,
Unworldly yearners, nor the palm
Awarded St. Teresa, ban
To Leopardi, Obermann?
Translated where the anthem 's sung
Beyond the thunder, in a strain
Whose harmony unwinds and solves
Each mystery that life involves;
There shall the Tree whereon He hung,
The olive wood, leaf out again —
Again leaf out, and endless reign
Type of the peace that buds from sinless pain?

Exhalings! Tending toward the skies
By natural law, from heart they rise
Of one there by the moundless bed
Where stones they roll to feet and head;
Then mount, and fall behind the guard
And so away.
But whitherward?
'Tis the high desert, sultry Alp
Which suns decay, which lightnings scalp
For now, to round the waste in large,
Christ's Tomb re-win by Saba's marge
Of grots and ossuary cells,
And Bethlehem where remembrance dwells —
From Sodom in her pit dismayed
Westward they wheel, and there invade
Judah's main ridge, which horrors deaden —
Where Chaos holds the wilds in pawn,
As here had happed an Armageddon,
Betwixt the good and ill a fray,
But ending in a battle drawn,
Victory undetermined. Nay,
For how an indecisive day
When one side camps upon the ground
Contested.
Ere enlocked in bound
They enter where the ridge is riven,
A look, one natural look is given
Toward Margoth and his henchmen twain,
Dwindling to ants far off upon the plain.

" So fade men from each other! — Jew,
We do forgive thee now thy scoff,
Now that thou dim recedest off
Forever. Fair hap to thee, Jew:
Consolator whom thou disownest
Attend thee in last hour lonest!"
Rolfe, gazing, could not all repress
That utterance; and more or less,
Albeit they left it undeclared,
The others in the feeling shared.

They turn, and enter now the pass
Wherein, all unredeemed by weeds,
Trees, moss, the winding cornice leads
For road along the calcined mass
Of aged mountain. Slow they urge
Sidelong their way betwixt the wall
And flanked abyss. They hark the fall
Of stones, hoof-loosened, down the crags:
The crumblings note they of the verge.
In rear one strange steed timid lags:
On foot an Arab goes before
And coaxes him to steepy shore
Of scooped-out gulfs, would halt him there:
Back shrinks the foal with snort and glare.
Then downward from the giddy brim
They peep; but hardly may they tell
If the black gulf affrighted him
Or lingering scent he caught in air
From relics in mid lodgment placed,
Now first perceived within the dell —
Two human skeletons enlaced
In grapple as alive they fell,
Or so disposed in overthrow
As to suggest encounter so.
A ticklish rim, an imminent pass
For quarrel; and blood-feud, alas,
The Arab keeps, and where or when,
Cain meeting Abel, closes then.
That desert's age the gorge may prove,
Piercing profound the mountain bare;
Yet hardly churned out in the groove
By a perennial wear and tear
Of floods; nay, dry it shows within;
But twice a year the waters flow,
Nor then in tide, but dribbling thin:
Avers Mar Saba's abbot so.
Nor less perchance before the day
When Joshua met the tribes in fray,
What wave here ran though leafy scene
Like uplands in Vermont the green;
What sylvan folk by mountain-base
Descrying showers about the crown
Of woods, foreknew the freshet's race
Quick to descend in torrent down;
And watched for it, and hailed in glee,
Then rode the comb of freshet wild,
As peaked upon the roller free
With gulls for mates, the Maldives merry child.
Or, earlier yet, could be a day
In time's first youth and pristine May
When here the hunter stood alone —
Moccasined Nimrod, belted Boone;
And down the tube of fringed ravine
Siddim descried, a lilied scene?
But crime and earthquake, throes and war;
And heaven remands the flower and star.
Aside they turn, and leave that gorge,
And slant upon the mountain long,
And toward a ledge they toilsome urge
High over Siddim, and overhung
By loftier crags. In spirals curled
And pearly nothings buoyant whirled,
Eddies of exhalations light,
As over lime-kilns, swim in sight.
The fog dispersed, those vapours show
Diurnal from the waters won
By the athirst demanding sun —
Recalling text of Scripture so;
For on the morn which followed rain
Of fire, when Abraham looked again,
The smoke went up from all the plain.
Their mount of vision, voiceless, bare,
It is that ridge, the desert's own,
Which by its dead Medusa stare
Petrific o'er the valley thrown,
Congeals Arabia into stone.
With dull metallic glint, the sea
Slumbers beneath the silent lee
Of sulphurous hills. These stretch away
Toward wilds of Kadesh Barnea,
And Zin the waste.
In pale regard
Intent the Swede turned thitherward:
" God came from Teman; in His hour
The Holy One from Paran came;
They knew Him not; He hid His power
Within the forking of the flame,
Within the thunder and the roll.
Imperious in its swift control,
The lion's instantaneous lick
Not more effaces to the quick
Than His fierce indignation then.
Look! for His wake is here. O men,
Since Science can so much explode,
Evaporated is this God? —
Recall the red year Forty-eight:
He storms in Paris; thence divides;
The menace scarce outspeeds the fate:
He 's over the Rhine — He 's at Berlin —
At Munich — Dresden — fires Vien;
He 's over the Alps — the whirlwind rides
In Rome; London 's alert — the Czar:
The portent and the fact of war,
And terror that into hate subsides.
There, through His instruments made known,
Including Atheist and his tribes,
Behold the prophet's marching One,
He at whose coming Midian shook —
The God, the striding God of Habakkuk."

Distempered! Nor might passion tire,
Nor pale reaction from it quell
The craze of grief's intolerant fire
Unwearied and unweariable.





Last updated January 14, 2019