11. The Beaker -

by Herman Melville

Herman Melville

" Life is not by square and line:
Wisdom 's stupid without folly:
Sherbet to-day, to-morrow wine —
Feather in cap and the world is jolly!"

So he, the aforesaid mellow man,
Thrumming upon the table's span.
Scarce audible except in air
Mirth's modest overture seemed there
Nor less the pilgrims, folding wing,
Weary, would now in slumber fall —
Sleep, held for a superfluous thing
By that free heart at home in hall.
And who was he so jovial?
Purveyor, he some needful stores
Supplied from Syrian towns and shores;
And on his trips, dismissing care,
His stores delivered all and told,
Would rest a while in Saba's fold.
Not broken he with fast and prayer:
The leg did well plump out the sock;
Nor young, nor old, but did enlock
In reconcilement a bright cheek
And fleecy beard; that cheek, in show,
Arbutus flaked about with snow,
Running-arbutus in spring's freak
Overtaken so. In Mytilene,
Sappho and Phaon's Lesbos green,
His home was, his lax paradise,
An island yet luxurious seen,
Fruitful in all that can entice
For chum he had a mountaineer,
A giant man, beneath whose lee
Lightly he bloomed, like pinks that cheer
The base of tower where cannon be.
That mountaineer the battle tans,
An Arnaut of no mean degree,
A lion of war, and drew descent
Through dames heroic from the tent
Of Pyrrhus and those Epirot clans
Which routed Rome. And, furthermore,
In after-line enlinked he stood
To Scanderbeg's Albanian brood,
And Arslan, famous heretofore,
The horse-tail pennon dyed in gore
An Islamite he was by creed —
In act; what fortune's chances breed:
Attest the medal, vouch the scar —
Had bled for Sultan, won for Czar;
His psalter bugle was and drum,
Any scorched rag his Labarum
For time adherent of the Turk,
In Saba's hold he sheathed his dirk,
Waiting arrival of a troop
Destined for some dragooning swoop
On the wild tribes beyond the wave
Of Jordan. Unconstrained though grave
Stalwart but agile, nobly tall,
Complexion a burnt red, and all
His carriage charged with courage high
And devil-dare. A hawk's his eye
While, for the garb: a snow-white kilt
Was background to his great sword-hilt:
The waistcoat blue, with plates and chains
Tarnished a bit with grapy stains;
Oaches in silver rows: stout greaves
Of leather: buskins thonged; light cloak
Of broidered stuff Damascus weaves;
And, scorched one side with powder smoke,
A crimson fez, bald as a skull
Save for long tassel prodigal
Last, add hereto a blood-red sash,
With dagger and pistol's silvery charms,
And there you have this Arnaut rash,
In zone of war — a trophy of arms.
While yet the monks stood by serene,
He, as to kill time, his moustache
Adjusted in his scimetar's sheen;
But when they made their mild adieu,
Response he nodded, seemly too.
And now, the last gowned friar gone,
His heart of onslaught he toned down
Into a solemn sort of grace,
Each pilgrim looking full in face,
As he should say: Why now, let 's be
Good comrades here to-night.
Grave plea
For brotherly love and jollity
From such an arsenal of man
A little strange seemed and remote
To bring it nearer — spice — promote —
Nor mindless of some aspects wan,
Lesbos, with fair engaging tone,
Threw in some moral cinnamon:
" Sir pilgrims, look; 'tis early yet;
In evening arbour here forget
The heat, the burden of the day.
Life has its trials, sorrows — yes,
I know — I feel; but blessedness
Makes up. Ye 've grieved the tender clay:
Solace should now all that requite;
'Tis duty, sirs. And — by the way —
Not vainly Anselm bade good night,
For see!" and cheery on the board
The flask he set.
" I and the sword,"
The Arnaut said (and in a tone
Of natural bass which startled one —
Profound as the profound trombone) —
" I and the sword stand by the red.
But this will pass, this molten ore
Of yellow gold. Is there no more?"
" Trust wit for that," the other said:
" Purveyor, shall he not purvey?"
And slid a panel, showing store
Of cups and bottles in array.
" Then arms at ease, and ho, the bench!"
It made the slender student blench
To hark the jangling of the steel,
Vibration of the floor to feel,
Tremor through beams and bones which ran
As that ripe masterpiece of man
Plumped solid down upon the deal.
Derwent a little hung behind —
Censorious not, nor disinclined,
But with self-querying countenance,
As if one of the cloth, perchance,
Due bound should set, observe degree
In liberal play of social glee.
Through instinct of good fellow bright,
His poise, as seemed, the Lesbian wight
Divined: and justly deeming here
The stage required a riper cheer
Than that before — solicitous,
With bubbling cup in either hand,
Toward Derwent drew he, archly bland;
Then posed; and tunefully e'en thus:

" A shady rock, and trickling too,
Is good to meet in desert drear:
Prithee now, the beading here —
Beads of Saba, saintly dew:
Quaff it, sweetheart, I and you:
Quaff it, for thereby ye bless
Beadsmen here in wilderness.
Spite of sorrow, maugre sin,
Bless their larder and laud their bin:
Nor deem that here they vainly pine
Who toil for heaven and till the vine!"

He sings; and in the act of singing,
Near and more near one cup he 's bringing,
Till by his genial sleight of hand
'Tis lodged in Derwent's, and — retained.
As lit by vintage sunset's hue
Which mellow warms the grapes that bleed,
In amber light the good man view;
Nor text of sanction lacked at need;
" At Cana, who renewed the wine?
Sourly did I this cup decline
(Which lo, I quaff, and not for food),
'Twould by an implication rude
Asperse that festival benign. —
We 're brethren, ay!"
The lamps disclose
The Spahi, Arnaut, and the priest,
With Rolfe and the not-of-Sharon Rose,
Ranged at the board for family feast.
" But where 's Djalea?" the cleric cried;
" 'Tis royalty should here preside":
And looked about him. Truth to own,
The Druze, his office having done
And brought them into haven there,
Discharged himself of further care
Till the next start: the interim
Accounting rightfully his own;
And may be, heedful not to dim
The escutcheon of an emir's son
By any needless letting down.

The Lesbian who had Derwent served,
Officiated for them all;
And, as from man to man he swerved,
Grotesque a bit of song let fall:

" The mufti in park suburban
Lies under a stone,
Surmounted serene by a turban
Magnific — a marble one!"

So, man by man, with twinkling air,
And cup and text of stanza fair:

" A rabbi in Prague they muster
In mound evermore
Looking up at his monument's cluster —
A cluster of grapes of Noah!"

When all were served with wine and rhyme,
" Ho, comrade," cried armed Og sublime,
" Your singing makes the filling scant;
The flask to me, let me decant."
With that, the host he played — brimmed up
And off-hand pushed the frequent cup;
Flung out his thigh, and quaffed apace,
Barbaric in his hardy grace;
The while his haughty port did say,
Who 's here uncivilised, I pray?
I know good customs: stint I ye?
Indeed (thought Rolfe), a man of mark,
And makes a rare symposiarch;
I like him; I'll e'en feel his grip.
With that, in vinous fellowship
Frank he put out his hand. In mood
Of questionable brotherhood
The slayer stared — anon construed
The overture aright, and yet
Not unreservedly he met
The palm. Came it in sort too close?
Was it embraces were for foes?

Rolfe, noting a fine colour stir,
Flushing each happy reveller,
Now leaned back, with this ditty wee:

" The Mountain-Ash
And Sumach fine,
Tipplers of summer,
Betray the wine
In autumn leaf
Of vermil flame:
Bramble and Thorn
Cry — Fie, for shame!"

Mortmain aloof and single sat —
In range with Rolfe, as viewed from mat
Where Vine reposed, observing there
That these in contour of the head
And goodly profile made a pair,
Though one looked like a statue dead
Methinks (mused Vine), 'tis Ahab's court
And yon the Tishbite; he'll consort
Not long, but Kedron seek. It proved
Even so: the desert-heart removed.
But he of bins, whose wakeful eye
On him had fixed, and followed sly
Until the shadow left the door,
Turned short, and tristful visage wore
In quaint appeal. A shrug; and then,
" Beseech ye now, ye friendly men,
Who 's he — a cup, pray; — O, my faith!
That funeral cap of his means death
To all good fellowship in feast.
Mad, say he 's mad!"
Awhile the priest
And Rolfe, reminded here in heart
Of more than well they might impart,
Uneasy sat. But this went by:
Ill sort some truths with revelry. —
The giant plied the flask. For Vine
Relaxed he viewed nor spurned the wine,
But humorously moralised
On those five souls imparadised
For term how brief; well pleased to scan
The Mytilene, the juicy man.
Earth — of the earth (thought Vine) well, well,
So 's a fresh turf, but good the smell.
Yes, deemed by some medicinal —
Most too if damped with wine of Xeres
And snuffed at when the spirit wearies.
I have it under strong advising
'Tis good at whiles this sensualising;
Would I could joy in it myself;
But no! —
For Derwent, he, light elf,
Not vainly stifling recent fret,
Under the table his two knees
Pushed deeper, so as e'en to get
Closer in comradeship at ease.
Arnaut and Spahi, in respect
Of all adventures they had known,
These chiefly did the priest affect:
Adventures, such as duly shown
Printed in books, seem passing strange
To clerks which read them by the fire,
Yet be the wonted commonplace
Of some who in the Orient range,
Free-lances, spendthrifts of their hire,
And who in end, when they retrace
Their lives, see little to admire
Or wonder at, so dull they be
(Like fish mid marvels of the sea)
To everything that is not pent
In self, or thereto ministrant.





Last updated January 14, 2019