by Herman Melville
If Savonarola's zeal devout
But with the faggot's flame died out;
If Leopardi, stoned by Grief,
A young St. Stephen of the Doubt,
Might merit well the martyr's leaf;
In these if passion held her claim,
Let Celio pass, of breed the same,
Nor ask from him — not found in them —
The Attic calm or Saxon phlegm.
Night glooming now in valley dead,
The Italian turned, regained the gate,
But found it closed, the warder fled,
And strange hush of an Eastern town
Where life retreats with set of sun.
Before the riveted clamped wood
Alone in outer dark he stood.
A symbol is it? be it so:
Harbour remains, I 'll thither go.
A point there is where Kedron's shore,
Narrowing, deepening, steepening more,
Shrinks to an adamantine pass
Flanked by three tombs, from base to head
Hewn from the cliff in cubic mass,
One quite cut off and islanded,
And one presents in Petra row
Pillars in hanging portico
Or balcony, here looking down
Vacantly on the vacant glen:
A place how dead, hard by a town.
'Twas here that Celio made his den
Where erst, as by tradition held,
St. James from hunters lay concealed,
Levites and bigots of the thong.
Hour after hour slow dragged along.
The glen's wall with night round about
Blended as cloud with cloud-rack may.
But lo — as when off Tamura
The splash of north-lights on the sea
Crimsons the bergs — so here start out
Some crags aloft how vividly.
Apace he won less narrow bound.
From the high gate, behold, a stream
Of torches. Lava-like it wound
Out from the city locked in dream,
And red adown the valley flowed.
Was it his friends the friars? from height
Meet rescue bringing in that light
To one benighted? Yes, they showed
A file of monks. But — how? their wicks
Invest a shrouded crucifix;
And each with flambeau held in hand,
Craped laymen mingle with the band
Of cord-girt gowns. He looks again:
Yes, 'tis the Terra Santa's train.
Nearer they come. The warden goes,
And other faces Celio knows.
Upon an office these are bound
Consolatory, which may stem
The affliction or relieve the wound
Of those which mute accompany them
In mourners' garb.
Aside he shrunk
Until had passed the rearmost monk;
Then, cloaked, he followed them in glade
Where fell the shadow deeper made.
Kedron they cross. Much so might move —
If legend hold, which none may prove —
The remnant of the Twelve which bore
Down thro' this glen in funeral plight
The Mother of our Lord by night
To sepulchre. Nay, just before
Her tomb alleged, the monks and they
Which mourn pause and uplift a lay;
Then rise, pass on, and bow the knee
In dust beside Gethsemane.
One named the Bitter Cup, and said:
" Saviour, Thou knowest: it was here
The angels ministered, Thy head
Supported, kissed Thy lidded eyes
And pale swooned cheek till Thou didst rise;
Help these then, unto these come near!"
Out sobbed the mourners, and the tear
From Celio trickled; but he mused —
Weak am I, by a myth abused.
Up Olivet the torchlight train
Filed slowly, yielding tribute-strain
At every sacred place they won;
Nor tarried long, but journeyed on
To Bethany — thro' stony lane
Went down into the narrow house
Or void cave named from Lazarus.
The flambeaux redden the dark wall,
Their shadows on that redness fall.
To make the attestation rife,
The resurrection and the life
Through Him the lord of miracle —
The warden from the page doth bruit
The story of the man that died
And lived again — bound hand and foot
With grave-clothes, rose — electrified;
Whom then they loosed, let go; even he
Whom many people came to see,
The village hinds and farm-house maids,
Afterward, at the supper given
To Jesus in the balmy even,
Who raised him vital from the shades.
The lesson over, well they sang
" O death, where is thy sting? O grave,
Where is thy victory? " It rang,
And ceased. And from the outward cave
These tones were heard: " But died he twice?
He comes not back from Paradise
Or Hades now. A vacant tomb
By Golgotha they show — a cell,
A void cell here. And is it well?
Raiser and raised divide one doom;
Both vanished now."
No thrills forewarn
Of fish that leaps from midnight tarn;
The very wave from which it springs
Is startled and recoils in rings.
So here with Celio and the word
Which from his own rash lips he heard.
He, hastening forth now all unseen,
Recrossed the mountain and ravine,
Nor paused till on a mound he sate
Biding St. Stephen's opening gate.
Ere long in gently fanning flaws
An odoriferous balmy air
Foreruns the morning, then withdraws,
Or — westward heralding — roves there.
The startled East a tremor knows —
Flushes — anon superb appears
In state of housings, shawls and spears,
Such as the Sultan's vanguard shows.
Preceded thus, in pomp the sun
August from Persia draweth on,
Waited by groups upon the wall
Of Judah's upland capital.
Last updated January 14, 2019