12. Of Pope and Turk -

by Herman Melville

Herman Melville

Marking the priest not all sedate,
Rolfe, that a friend might fret discard,
Turned his attention to debate
Between two strangers at the board.
In furtherance of his point or plea
One said:
" Late it was told to me,
And by the man himself concerned,
A merchant Frank on Syria's coast,
That in a fire which travelled post,
His books and records being burned,
His Christian debtors held their peace;
The Islam ones disclaimed release,
And came with purses and accounts."
" And duly rendered their amounts?
'Twas very kind. But oh, the greed,
Rapacity, and crime at need
In satraps which oppress the throng."
" True. But with these 'tis, after all,
Wrongdoing purely personal —
Not legislated — not a wrong
Law-sanctioned. No: the Turk, admit,
In scheme of state, the scheme of it,
Upon the civil arm confers
A sway above the scimetar's —
The civil power itself subjects
Unto that Koran which respects
Nor place nor person. Nay, adjourn
The jeer; for now aside we 'll turn.
Dismembered Poland and her throe
In Ninety-Five, all unredressed:
Did France, did England then protest?"
" England? I 'm sure I do not know.
Come, I distrust your shifting so.
Pray, to what end now is this pressed?"
" Why, here armed Christendom looking on,
In protest the Sultan stood alone."
" Indeed? But all this, seems to me,
Savours of Urquhart's vanity."
" The commentator on the East?"
" The same: that very inexact
Eccentric ideologist
Now obsolete."
" And that 's your view?
He stands for God."
" I stand by fact."
" Well then, another fact or two:
When Poland's place in Thirty-One
Was blotted out, the Turk again
Protested, with one other man,
The Pope; these, and but these alone;
And in the protest both avowed
'Twas made for justice's sake and God. —
You smile."
" Oh no: but very clear
The protest prompted was by fear
In Turk and Pope, that time might come
When spoliation should drive home
Upon themselves. Besides, you know
The Polish church was Catholic:
The Czar would wrest it to the Greek:
'Twas that touched Rome. But let it go. —
In pith, what is it you would show?
Are Turks our betters? Very strange
Heaven's favour does not choicely range
Upon these Islam people good:
Bed-rid they are, behindhand all,
While Europe flowers in plenitude
Of wealth and commerce."
" I recall
Nothing in Testament which saith
That worldliness shall not succeed
In that wherein it laboureth.
Howbeit, the Sultan 's coming on:
Fine lesson from ye has he won
Of late; apt pupil he indeed:
Ormus, that riches did confer,
Ormus is made a borrower:
Selim, who grandly turbaned sat,
Verges on bankruptcy and — hat.
But this don't touch the rank and file;
At least, as yet. But preach and work:
You 'll civilise the barbarous Turk —
Nay, all the East may reconcile:
That done, let Mammon take the wings of even
And mount and civilise the saints in heaven."
" I laugh — I like a brave caprice!
And, sir — — "
But here did Rolfe release
His ear, and Derwent too. A stir
In court was heard of man and steed —
Neighings and mountings, din indeed;
And Rolfe: " Come, come; our traveller."





Last updated January 14, 2019