by Herman Melville
Wise Derwent, that discourse to end,
Pointed athwart the dale divine:
" What 's yonder object — fountain? shrine?
Companions, let us thither go
And make inspection."
Silent they follow him in calm.
It proved an ancient monument —
Rude stone; but tablets lent a charm:
Three tablets on three sides. In one
The Tender Shepherd mild looked down
Upon the rescued weanling lost,
Snugged now in arms. In emblem crossed
By pastoral crook, Christ's monogram
(Wrought with a mediaeval grace)
Showed on the square opposed in face.
But chiefly did they feel the claim
Of the main tablet; there a lamb
On passive haunches upright sate
In patience which reproached not fate;
The two fine furry forelegs drooping
Like tassels; while the shearer, stooping,
Embraced it with one arm; and all
The fleece rolled off in seamless shawl,
Flecked here and there with hinted blood.
It did not shrink; no cry did come:
In still life of that stone subdued
Shearer and shorn alike were dumb.
As with a seventy-four, when lull
Lapses upon the storm, the hull
Rights for the instant, while a moan
Of winds succeeds the howl; so here
In poise of heart and altered tone
With Ungar. Respite brief though dear
It proved; for he: " This type 's assigned
To One who, sharing not man's mind,
Partook man's frame; whose mystic birth
Wrecked him upon this reef of earth
Inclement and inhuman. Yet,
Through all the trials that beset,
He leaned on an upholding arm —
Foreknowing, too, reserves of balm.
But how of them whose souls may claim
Some link with Christ beyond the name,
Which share the fate, but never share
Aid or assurance, and nowhere
Look for requital? Such there be;
In by-lanes o'er the world ye see
The Calvary-faces." All averse
Turned Derwent, murmuring, " Forbear:
Such breakers do the heaven asperse!"
But timely he alert espied,
Upon the mountain humbly kneeling,
Those shepherds twain, while morning-tide
Rolled o'er the hills with golden healing.
It was a rock they kneeled upon,
Convenient for their rite avowed —
Kneeled, and their turbaned foreheads bowed —
Bowed over, till they kissed the stone:
Each shaggy surcoat heedful spread
For rug, such as in mosque is laid.
About the ledge's favoured hem
Mild fed their sheep, enringing them;
While, facing as by second-sight,
Toward Mecca they direct the rite.
" Look; and their backs on Bethlehem turned,"
Cried Rolfe. The priest then, who discerned
The drift, replied, " Yes, for they pray
To Allah. Well, and what of that?
Christ listens, standing in heaven's gate —
Benignant listens, nor doth stay
Upon a syllable in creed:
Vowels and consonants indeed!"
And Rolfe: " But here were Margoth now,
Seeing yon shepherds praying so,
His gibe would run from man to man:
" Which is the humble publican?
Or do they but prostrate them there
To flout you Franks with Islam's prayer? " "
" Doubtless some shallow thing he 'd say,
Poor fellow," Derwent then; " but, nay,
Earnest they are; nor yet they 'd part
(If pealed the hour) in street or mart,
From like observance."
" If 'tis so,"
The refugee, " let all avow
As openly faith's loyal heart.
By Christians too was God confessed
How frankly! in those days that come
No more to misnamed Christendom!
Religion then was the good guest,
First served, and last, in every gate:
What mottoes upon wall and plate!
She every human venture shared:
The ship in manifest declared
That not disclaiming heaven she thrust
Her bowsprit into fog and storm:
Some current silver bore the palm
Of Christ, token of saint, or bust;
In line devout the pikemen kneeled —
To battle by the rite were sealed.
Men were not lettered, but had sense
Beyond the mean intelligence
That knows to read, and but to read —
Not think. 'Twas harder to mislead
The people then, whose smattering now
Does but the more their ignorance show —
Nay, them to peril more expose —
Is as the ring in the bull's nose
Whereby a pert boy turns and winds
This monster of a million minds.
Men owned true masters; kings owned God —
Their master; Louis plied the rod
Upon himself. In high estate,
Not puffed up like a democrat
In office, how with Charlemagne?
Look up he did, look up in reign —
Humbly look up, who might look down:
His meekest thing was still his crown:
How meek on him ; since, graven there,
Among the Apostles twelve — behold,
Stern Scriptural precepts were enrolled,
High admonitions, meet for kings.
The coronation was a prayer,
Which yet in ceremonial clings.
The church was like a bonfire warm:
All ranks were gathered round the charm."
Derwent, who vainly had essayed
To impede the speaker, or blockade,
Snatched at the bridle here: " Ho, wait;
A word, impetuous laureate!
This bric-a-brac-ish style (outgrown
Almost, where first it gave the tone)
Of lauding the quaint ages old —
But nay, that 's satire; I withhold.
Grant your side of the shield part true:
What then? why, turn the other: view
The buckler in reverse. Don't sages
Denominate those times Dark Ages?
Dark Middle Ages, time's midnight!"
" If night, it was no starless one;
Art still admires what then was done:
A strength they showed which is of light.
Not more the Phidian marbles prove
The graces of the Grecian prime
And indicate what men they were,
Than the grand minsters in remove
Do intimate, if not declare
A magnanimity which our time
Would envy, were it great enough
To comprehend. Your counterbuff,
However, holds. Yes, frankly, yes,
Another side there is, admit.
Nor less the very worst of it
Reveals not such a shamelessness
Of evildoer and hypocrite,
And sordid mercenary sin
As these days vaunt and revel in."
" No use, no use," the priest aside;
" Patience! it is the maddest tide";
And seated him.
And Ungar then:
" What 's overtaken ye pale men?
Shrewd are ye, the main chance ye heed:
Has God quite lost His throne indeed
That lukewarm now ye grow? Wilt own,
Council ye take with fossil-stone?
Your sects do nowadays create
Churches as worldly as the state.
And, for your more established forms —
Ah, once in York I viewed through storms
The Minster's majesty of mien —
Towers, peaks, and pinnacles sublime —
Faith's iceberg, stranded on a scene
How alien, and an alien time;
But now" — he checked himself, and stood.
Whence this strange bias of his mood
(Thought they) leaning to things corroded,
By many deemed for aye exploded?
But, truly, knowing not the man,
At fault they in conjecture ran.
But Ungar (as in fitter place
Set down) being sprung from Romish race,
Albeit himself had spared to feed
On any one elected creed
Or rite, though much he might recall
In annals bearing upon all;
And, in this land named of Behest,
A wandering Ishmael from the West;
Inherited the Latin mind,
Which late — blown by the adverse wind
Of harder fortunes that molest —
Kindled from ember into coal.
The priest, as one who keeps him whole,
Anew turns toward the kneeling twain:
" Your error 's slight, or, if a stain,
'Twill fade. Our Lord enjoins good deeds,
Nor catechiseth in the creeds."
A something in the voice or man,
Or in assumption of the turn
Which prior theme did so adjourn,
Pricked Ungar, and a look he ran
Toward Derwent — an electric light
Chastising in its fierce revolt;
Then settled into that still night
Of cloud which has discharged the bolt.
Last updated January 14, 2019