13. The Arch -

by Herman Melville

Herman Melville

Blue-lights sent up by ship forlorn
Are answered oft but by the glare
Of rockets from another, torn
In the same gale's inclusive snare.

'Twas then when Celio was lanced
By novel doubt, the encounter chanced
In Gihon, as recited late,
And at a time when Clarel too,
On his part, felt the grievous weight
Of those demoniacs in view;
So that when Celio advanced
No wonder that the meeting eyes
Betrayed reciprocal surmise
And interest. 'Twas thereupon
The Italian, as the eve drew on,
Regained the gate, and hurried in
As he would passionately win
Surcease to thought by rapid pace.
Eastward he bent, across the town,
Till in the Via Crucis lone
An object there arrested him.
With gallery which years deface,
Its bulk athwart the alley grim,
The arch named Ecce Homo threw;
The same, if childlike faith be true,
From which the Lamb of God was shown
By Pilate to the wolfish crew.
And Celio — in frame how prone
To kindle at that seene recalled —
Perturbed he stood, and heart-enthralled.
No raptures which with saints prevail,
Nor trouble of compunction born
He felt, as there he seemed to scan
Aloft in spectral guise, the pale
Still face, the purple robe, and thorn;
And inly cried — Behold the Man!
Yon Man it is this burden lays:
Even He who in the pastoral hours,
Abroad in fields, and cheered by flowers,
Announced a heaven's unclouded days;
And, ah, with such persuasive lips —
Those lips now sealed while doom delays —
Won men to look for solace there;
But, crying out in death's eclipse,
When rainbow none His eyes might see,
Enlarged the margin for despair —
My God, My God, forsakest Me?
Upbraider! we upbraid again;
Thee we upbraid; our pangs constrain
Pathos itself to cruelty.
Ere yet Thy day no pledge was given
Of homes and mansions in the heaven —
Paternal homes reserved for us;
Heart hoped it not, but lived content —
Content with life's own discontent,
Nor deemed that fate ere swerved for us:
The natural law men let prevail;
Then reason disallowed the state
Of instinct's variance with fate.
But Thou — ah, see, in rack how pale
Who did the world with throes convulse;
Behold Him — yea — behold the Man
Who warranted if not began
The dream that drags out its repulse.
Nor less some cannot break from Thee;
Thy love so locked is with Thy lore,
They may not rend them and go free:
The head rejects; so much the more
The heart embraces — what? the love?
If true what priests avouch of Thee,
The shark Thou mad'st, yet claim'st the dove.
Nature and Thee in vain we search:
Well urged the Jews within the porch —
" How long wilt make us still to doubt?"
How long? — 'Tis eighteen cycles now —
Enigma and evasion grow;
And shall we never find Thee out?
What isolation lones Thy state
That all we else know cannot mate
With what Thou teachest? Nearing Thee
All footing fails us; history
Shows there a gulf where bridge is none!
In lapse of unrecorded time,
Just after the apostles' prime,
What chance or craft might break it down?
Served this a purpose? By what art
Of conjuration might the heart
Of heavenly love, so sweet, so good,
Corrupt into the creeds malign,
Begetting strife's pernicious brood,
Which claimed for patron Thee divine?
Anew, anew,
For this Thou bleedest, Anguished Face;
Yea, Thou through ages to accrue,
Shalt the Medusa shield replace:
In beauty and in terror too
Shalt paralyse the nobler race —
Smite or suspend, perplex, deter —
Tortured, shalt prove a torturer.
Whatever ribald Future be,
Thee shall these heed, amaze their hearts with Thee —
Thy white, Thy red, Thy fairness and Thy tragedy.

He turned, uptorn in inmost frame,
Nor weened he went the way he came,
Till meeting two there, nor in calm —
A monk and layman, one in creed,
The last with novice-ardour warm,
Newcomer, and devout indeed,
To whom the other was the guide,
And showed the Places. " Here," he cried,
At pause before a wayside stone,
" Thou mark'st the spot where that bad Jew
His churlish taunt at Jesus threw
Bowed under cross with stifled moan:
Caitiff, which for that cruel wrong
Thenceforth till Doomsday drives along."
Starting, as here he made review,
Celio winced — Am I the Jew?
Without delay, afresh he turns
Descending by the Way of Thorns,
Winning the Proto-Martyr's gate,
And goes out down Jehoshaphat.
Beside him slid the shadows flung
By evening from the tombstones tall
Upon the bank far sloping from the wall.
Scarce did he heed, or did but slight
The admonishment the warder rung
That with the setting of the sun,
Now getting low and all but run,
The gate would close, and for the night.





Last updated January 14, 2019