12. Celio -

by Herman Melville

Herman Melville

But ere they meet in place assigned,
It needs — to make the sequel clear —
A crossing thread be first entwined.
Within the Terra-Santa's wall
(A prefix dropped, the Latins here
So the Franciscan Convent call),
Commended to the warden's care,
The mitred father-warden there,
By missives from a cardinal,
It chanced an uncompanioned youth,
By birth a Roman, shelter found
In casual contact, daily round,
Mixed interest the stranger won.
Each friar, the humblest, could but own
His punctual courtesy, in sooth,
Though this still guarded a reserve
Which, not offending, part estranged.
Sites, sites and places all he ranged
Unwearied, but would ever swerve
From escort such as here finds place,
Or cord-girt guide, or chamberlain
Martial in Oriental town,
By gilt-globed staff of office known,
Sword by his side, in golden lace,
Tall herald making clear the van.
But what most irked each tonsured man,
Distrust begat, concern of heart
Was this: though the young man took part
In chapel service, 'twas as guest
Who but conformed; he showed no zest
Of faith within, faith personal.
Ere long the warden, kindly all,
Said inly with himself: Poor boy,
Enough hast thou of life-annoy;
Let be reproach. Tied up in knot
Of body by the fleshly withes,
Needs must it be the spirit writhes
And takes a warp. But Christ will blot
Some records in the end.
And own,
So far as in by out is shown,
Not idle was the monk's conceit.
Fair head was set on crook and lump,
Absalom's locks but Æsop's hump,
Deep in the grave eyes' last retreat,
One read thro' guarding feint of pride,
Quick sense of all the ills that gride
In one contorted so. But here,
More to disclose in bearing chief,
More than to monks might well appear,
There needs some running mention brief.
Fain had his brethren have him grace
Some civic honorable place;
And interest was theirs to win
Ample preferment; he as kin
Was loved, if but ill understood:
At heart they had his worldly good;
But he postponed, and went his way
Unpledged, unhampered. So that still
Leading a studious life at will,
And prompted by an earnest mind,
Scarce might he shun the fevered sway
Of focused question in our day.
Overmuch he shared, but in that kind
Which marks the Italian turn of thought,
When, counting Rome's tradition naught,
The mind is coy to own the rule
Of sect replacing, sect or school.
At sea, in brig which swings no boat,
To founder is to sink.
On day
When from St. Peter's balcony,
The raised pontific fingers bless
The city and the world; the stress
He knew of fate: Blessest thou me ,
One wave here in this heaving sea
Of heads? how may a blessing be?
Luckless, from action's thrill removed,
And all that yields our nature room;
In courts a jest; and, harder doom,
Never the hunchback may be loved.
Never! for Beatrice — Bice — O,
Diminutive once sweet, made now
All otherwise! — didst thou but fool?
Arch practice in precocious school?
Nay, rather 'twas ere thou didst bud
Into thy riper womanhood.
Since love, arms, courts, abjure — why then
Remaineth to me what? the pen?
Dead feather of ethereal life!
Nor efficacious much, save when
It makes some fallacy more rife.
My kin — I blame them not at heart —
Would have me act some routine part,
Subserving family, and dreams
Alien to me — illusive schemes.
This world clean fails me: still I yearn.
Me then it surely does concern
Some other world to find. But where?
In creed? I do not find it there.
That said, and is the emprise o'er?
Negation, is there nothing more?
This side the dark and hollow bound
Lies there no unexplored rich ground?
Some other world : well, there's the New —
Ah, joyless and ironic too!
They vouch that virgin sphere's assigned
Seat for man's re-created kind:
Last hope and proffer, they protest.
Brave things! sun rising in the west;
And bearded centuries but gone
For ushers to the beardless one.
Nay, nay; your future 's too sublime:
The Past, the Past is half of time,
The proven half — Thou Pantheon old
Two thousand years have round thee rolled;
Yet thou, in Rome, thou bid'st me seek
Wisdom in something more antique
Than thou thyself. Turn then: what seer,
The senior of this Latian one,
Speaks from the ground, transported here
In Eastern soil? Far buried down —
For consecration and a grace
Enlocking Santa Croce's base —
Lies earth of Jewry, which of yore
The homeward bound Crusaders bore
In fleet from Jaffa. — Trajan's hall,
That huge ellipse imperial,
Was built by Jews. And Titus' Arch
Transmits their conqueror in march
Of trophies which those piers adorn.
There yet, for an historic plea,
In heathen triumph's harlotry
The Seven-Branched Candlestick is borne.
What then? Tho' all be whim of mine,
Yet by these monuments I 'm schooled,
Arrested, strangely overruled;
Methinks I catch a beckoning sign,
A summons as from Palestine.
Yea, let me view that pontiff-land
Whose sway occult can so command;
Make even Papal Rome to be
Her appanage or colony.
Is Judah's mummy quite unrolled?
To pluck the talisman from fold!
But who may well indeed forecast
The novel influence of scenes
Remote from his habitual Past
The unexpected supervenes;
Which Celio proved. 'Neath Zion's lee
His nature, with that nature blent,
Evoked an upstart element,
As do the acid and the alkali.





Last updated January 14, 2019