13. Song and Recitative -

by Herman Melville

Herman Melville

" The chalice tall of beaten gold
Is hung with bells about:
The flamen serves in temple old,
And weirdly are the tinklings rolled
When he pours libation out.
O Cybele, dread Cybele,
Thy turrets nod, thy terrors be!

" But service done, and vestment doffed,
With cronies in a row
Behind night's violet velvet soft,
The chalice drained he rings aloft
To another tune, I trow.
O Cybele, fine Cybele,
Jolly thy bins and belfries be!"

With action timing well the song,
His flagon flourished up in air,
The varlet of the isle so flung
His madcap intimation — there
Comic on Rolfe his eye retaining
In mirth how full of roguish feigning.
Ought I protest? (thought Rolfe) the man
Nor malice has, nor faith: why ban
This heart though of religion scant,
A true child of the lax Levant,
That polyglot and loose-laced mother?
In such variety he 's lived
Where creeds dovetail into each other;
Such influences he 's received:
Thrown among all — Medes, Elamites,
Egyptians, Jews and proselytes,
Strangers from Rome, and men of Crete —
And parts of Lybia round Cyrene —
Arabians, and the throngs ye meet
On Smyrna's quays, and all between
Stamboul and Fez — thrown among these,
A caterer to revelries,
He 's caught the tints of many a scene,
And so became a harlequin
Gay patchwork of all levities.
Holding to now , swearing by here ,
His course conducting by no keen
Observance of the stellar sphere —
He coasteth under sail lateen:
Then let him laugh, enjoy his dinner,
He 's an excusable poor sinner.
'Twas Rolfe. But Clarel, what thought he?
For he too heard the Lesbian's song
There by the casement where he hung:
In heart of Saba's mystery
This mocker light! —
But now in waltz
The Pantaloon here Rolfe assaults;
Then, keeping arm around his waist,
Sees Rolfe's reciprocally placed;
'Tis side by side entwined in ease
Of Chang and Eng the Siamese
When leaning mutually embraced;
And so these improvised twin brothers
Dance forward and salute the others,
The Lesbian flourishing for sign
His wine-cup, though it lacked the wine.
They sit. With random scraps of song
He whips the tandem hours along,
Or moments, rather; in the end
Calling on Derwent to unbend
In lyric.
" I?" said Derwent, " I?
Well, if you like, I 'll even give
A trifle in recitative —
A something — nothing — anything —
Since little does it signify
In festive free contributing:

" To Hafiz in grape-arbour comes
Didymus, with book he thumbs:
My lord Hafiz, priest of bowers —
Flowers in such a world as ours?
Who is the god of all these flowers? —
Signior Didymus, who knows?
None the less I take repose —
Believe, and worship here with wine
In vaulted chapel of the vine
Before the altar of the rose.
" Ah, who sits here? a sailor meek?"
It was that sea-apparelled Greek:
" Gray brother, here, partake our wine."
He shook his head, yes, did decline
" Or quaff or sing," cried Derwent then,
" For learn, we be hilarious men.
Pray, now, you seamen know to sing."
" I 'm old," he breathed. — " So 's many a tree,
Yet green the leaves and dance in glee."

The Arnaut made the scabbard ring:
" Sing, man, and here 's the chorus — sing!"
" Sing, sing!" the Islesman, " bear the bell;
Sing, and the other songs excel."
" Ay, sing," cried Rolfe, " here now 's a sample;
'Tis virtue teaches by example:

" Jars of honey,
Wine-skin, dates, and macaroni:
Falling back upon the senses —
O, the wrong —
Need take up with recompenses:
Song, a song!"

They sang about him till he said:
" Sing, sirs, I cannot: this I 'll do,
Repeat a thing Methodius made,
Good chaplain of The Apostles " crew:

" Priest in ship with saintly bow,
Warship named from Paul and Peter
Grandly carved on castled prow;
Gliding by the grouped Canaries
Under liquid light of Mary's
Mellow star of eventide;
Lulled by tinklings at the side,
I, along the taffrail leaning,
Yielding to the ship's careening,
Shared that peace the upland owns
Where the palm — the palm and pine
Meeting on the frontier line
Seal a truce between the zones
This be ever! (mused I lowly)
Dear repose is this and holy;

Like the Gospel it is gracious
And prevailing. — There, audacious —
Boom! the signal-gun it jarred me,
Flash and boom together marred me
And I thought of horrid war;
But never moved grand Paul and Peter,
Never blenched Our Lady's star!"





Last updated January 14, 2019