15. In Moonlight -

by Herman Melville

Herman Melville

The roller upon Borneo's strand
Halts not, but in recoiling throe
Drags back the shells involved with sand,
Shuffled and muffled in the flow
And hollow of the wallowing undertow.

In night Rolfe waked, and whelming felt
That refluence of disquiet dealt
In sequel to redundant joy.
Around he gazed in vague annoy
Upon his mates. The lamplight dim
Obscurely showed them, strangely thrown
In sleep, nor heeding eye of him;
Flung every way, with random limb —
Like corses, when the battle 's done
And stars come up. No sound but slight
Calm breathing, or low elfin shriek
In dream. But Mortmain, coiled in plight,
Lay with one arm wedged under cheek,
Mumbling by starts the other hand,
As the wolf-hound the bone. Rolfe rose
And shook him. Whereat, from his throes
He started, glaring; then lapsed down:
" Soft, soft and tender; feels so bland —
Grind it! 'tis hers, Brinvilliers' hand,
My nurse." From which mad dream anon
He seemed his frame to re-command;
And yet would give an animal moan.
God help thee, and may such ice make
Except against some solid? nay —
But thou who mark'st, get thee away,
Nor in such coals of Tartarus rake."
So Rolfe; and wide a casement threw.
Aroma! and is this Judaea?
Down the long gorge of Kedron blew
A balm beyond the sweet Sabaea —
An air as from Elysian grass;
Such freshening redolence divine
As mariners upon the brine
Inhale, when barren beach they pass
By night; a musk of wafted spoil
From Nature's scent-bags in the soil,
Not in her flowers; nor seems it known
Even on the shores wherefrom 'tis blown.
Clarel, he likewise wakeful grew,
And rose, joined Rolfe, and both repaired
Out to a railed-in ledge. In view
Across the gulf a fox was scared
Even by their quiet coming so,
And noiseless fled along a line
Of giddy cornice, till more slow
He skulked out of the clear moonshine;
For great part of that wall did show,
To these beneath the shadowed height,
With arras hung of fair moonlight.
The limestone mountain cloven asunder,
With scars of many a plunge and shock
Tremendous of the rifted rock;
So hushed now after all the thunder,
Begat a pain of troubled wonder.
The student felt it; for redress
He turned him — anywhere — to find
Some simple thing to ease the mind
Dejected in her littleness.
Rolfe read him; and in quiet way
Would interpose, lead off, allay.
" Look," whispered he, " yon object white —
This side here, on the crag at brink —
'Tis touched, just touched by paler light;
Stood we in Finland, one might think
An ermine there lay coiled. But no,
A turban 'tis, Djalea's, aloof
Reclining, as he used to do
In Lebanon upon proud roof —
His sire's. And, see, long pipe in state,
He inhales the friendly fume sedate.
Yon turban with the snowy folds.
Announces that my lord there holds
The rank of Druze initiate —
Not versed in portion mere, but total
Advanced in secrets sacerdotal;
Though what these be, or high or low,
Who dreams? Might Lady Esther learn?"
" Who?"
" Lady Esther. Don't you know?
Pitt's sibyl-niece, who made sojourn
In Libanus, and read the stars;
Self-exiled lady, long ago
She prophesied of wizard wars,
And kept a saddled steed in stall
Awaiting some Messiah's call
Who came not — But yon Druze's veil
Of Sais may one lift, nor quail?
We 'll try."
To courteous challenge sent,
The Druze responded, not by word
Indeed, but act: he came; content
He leaned beside them in accord,
Resting the pipe-bowl. His assent
In joining them, nay, all his air
Mute testimony seemed to bear
That now night's siren element,
Stealing upon his inner frame,
Pliant had made it and more tame.
With welcome having greeted him,
Rolfe led along by easy skim
And won the topic: " Tell us here —
Your Druze faith: are there not degrees,
Orders, ascents of mysteries
Therein? One would not pry and peer:
Of course there 's no disclosing these;
But what 's that working thought you win?
The prelate-princes of your kin,
They — they — doubtless they take their ease."
No ripple stirred the Emir's son,
He whiffed the vapour, kept him staid,
Then from the lip the amber won:
" No God there is but God," he said,
And tapped the ashes from the bowl,
And stood. 'Twas passive self-control
Of Pallas' statue in sacked Rome
Which bode till pushed from off the plinth;
Then through the rocky labyrinth
Betook him where cool sleep might come;
But not before farewell sedate:
" Allah preserve ye, Allah great!"





Last updated January 14, 2019