13. Flight of the Greeks -

by Herman Melville

Herman Melville

" King, who betwixt the cross and sword
On ashes died in cowl and cord —
In desert died; and, if thy heart
Betrayed thee not, from life didst part
A martyr for thy martyred Lord;
Anointed one and undefiled —
O warrior manful, tho' a child
In simple faith — St. Louis! rise,
And teach us out of holy eyes
Whence came thy trust."

So Rolfe, and shrank,
Awed by that region dread and great;
Thence led to take to heart the fate
Of one who tried in such a blank,
Believed — and died.
Lurching was seen
An Arab tall, on camel lean,
Up labouring from a glen's remove,
His long lance upright fixed above
The gun across the knee in guard.
So rocks in hollow trough of sea
A wreck with one gaunt mast, and yard
Displaced and slanting toward the lee.
Closer he drew; with visage mute,
Austere in passing made salute.
Such courtesy may vikings lend
Who through the dreary Hela wend.
Under gun, lance, and scabbard hacked
Pressed Nehemiah; with ado
High he reached up an Arab tract
From the low ass — " Christ's gift to you!"
With clatter of the steel he bore
The lofty nomad bent him o'er
In grave regard. The camel too
Her crane-like neck swerved round to view;
Nor more to camel than to man
Inscrutable the ciphers ran.
But wonted unto arid cheer,
The beast, misjudging, snapped it up,
And would have munched, but let it drop;
Her master, poling down his spear
Transfixed the page and brought it near,
Nor stayed his travel.
On they went
Through solitudes, till made intent
By small sharp shots which stirred rebound
In echo. Over upland drear
On tract of less obstructed ground
Came fairly into open sight
A mounted train in tulip plight:
Ten Turks, whereof advanced rode four,
With levelled pistols, left and right
Graceful diverging, as in plume
Feather from feather. So brave room
They make for turning toward each shore
Ambiguous in nooks of blight,
Discharging shots; then reunite,
And, with obeisance bland, adore
Their prince, a fair youth, who, behind —
'Tween favourites of equal age,
Brilliant in paynim equipage —
With Eastern dignity how sweet,
Nods to their homage, pleased to mind
Their gallant curvets. Still they meet,
Salute and wheel, and him precede,
As in a pleasure-park or mead.

The escorts join; and some would take
To parley, as is wont. The Druze,
Howbeit, hardly seems to choose
The first advances here to make;
Nor does he shun. Alert is seen
One in voluminous turban green,
Beneath which in that barren place
Sheltered he looks as by the grace
Of shady palm-tuft. Vernal he
In sacerdotal chivalry:
That turban by its hue declares
That the great Prophet's blood he shares:
Kept as the desert stallions be,
'Tis an attested pedigree.
But ah, the bigot, he could lower
In mosque on the intrusive Giaour.
To make him truculent for creed
Family pride joined personal greed.
Tho' foremost here his word he vents —
Officious in the conference,
In rank and sway he ranged, in sooth,
Behind that fine sultanic youth
Which held his place apart, and, cool,
In lapse or latency of rule
Seemed mindless of the halting train
And pilgrims there of Franquestan
Or land of Franks. Remiss he wore
An indolent look superior.
His grade might justify the air:
The viceroy of Damascus' heir.
His father's jurisdiction sweeps
From Lebanon to Ammon's steeps.
Return he makes from mission far
To independent tribes of war
Beyond the Houran. In advance
Of the main escort, gun and lance,
He aims for Salem back.
This learned,
In anxiousness the banker yearned
To join; nor Glaucon seemed averse.
'Twas quick resolved, and soon arranged
Through fair diplomacy of purse
And Eastern compliments exchanged.
Their wine, in pannier of the mule,
Upon the pilgrims they bestow:
" And pledge us, friends, in valley cool,
If such this doleful road may know:
Farewell!" And so the Moslem train
Received these Christians, happy twain.

They fled. And thou? The way is dun;
Why further follow the Emir's son?
Scarce yet the thought may well engage
To lure thee thro' these leafless bowers,
That little avails a pilgrimage
Whose road but winds among the flowers.
Part here, then, would ye win release
From ampler dearth; part, and in peace.
Nay, part like Glaucon, part with song:
The note receding dies along:

" Tarry never there
Where the air
Lends a lone Hadean spell —
Where the ruin and the wreck
Vine and ivy never deck,
And wizard wan and sibyl dwell:
There, oh, beware!

" Rather seek the grove —
Thither rove,
Where the leaf that falls to ground
In a violet upsprings,
And the oracle that sings
Is the bird above the mound:
There, tarry there!"





Last updated January 14, 2019