15. Symphonies -

by Herman Melville

Herman Melville

Meanwhile with Vine there, Clarel stood
Aside in friendly neighbourhood,
And felt a flattering pleasure stir
At words — nor in equivocal tone
Freakish, or leaving to infer,
Such as beforetime he had known —
Breathed now by that exceptional one
In unconstraint:
" 'Tis very much
The cold fastidious heart to touch
This way; nor is it mere address
That so could move one's silver chord.
How he transfigured Ungar's sword!
Delusive is this earnestness
Which holds him in its passion pale —
Tenant of melancholy's dale
Of mirage? To interpret him,
Perhaps it needs a swallow-skim
Over distant time. Migrate with me
Across the years, across the sea. —
How like a Poor Clare in her cheer
(Grave Sister of his order sad)
Showed nature to that Cordelier
Who, roving in the Mexic glade,
Saw in a bud of happy dower
Whose stalk entwined the tropic tree,
Emblems of Christ's last agony:
In anthers, style, and fibres torn,
The five wounds, nails, and crown of thorn;
And named it so the passion-flower.
What beauty in that sad conceit!
Such charm, the title still we meet.
Our guide, methinks, where'er he turns
For him this passion-flower burns;
And all the world is elegy.
A green knoll is to you and me
But pastoral, and little more:
To him 'tis even Calvary
Where feeds the Lamb. This passion-flower —
But list!"
Hid organ-pipes unclose
A timid rill of slender sound,
Which gains in volume — grows, and flows
Gladsome in amplitude of bound.
Low murmurs creep. From either side
Tenor and treble interpose,
And talk across the expanding tide:
Debate, which in confusion merges —
Din and clamour, discord's height:
Countering surges — paeans — dirges —
Mocks, and laughter light.
But rolled in long ground-swell persistent,
A tone, an undertone assails
And overpowers all near and distant;
Earnest and sternest, it prevails.
Then terror, horror — wind and rain —
Accents of undetermined fear,
And voices as in shipwreck drear:
A sea, a sea of spirits in pain!
The suppliant cries decrease —
The voices in their ferment cease:
One wave rolls over all and whelms to peace.
But hark — oh, hark!
Whence, whence this stir, this whirr of wings?
Numbers numberless convening —
Harps and childlike carolings
In happy holiday of meaning:

" To God be glory in the height,
For tidings glad we bring;
Good-will to men, and peace on earth
We children-cherubs sing!

" To God be glory in the depth,
As in the height be praise;
He who shall break the gates of death
A babe in manger rays.

" Ye people all in every land,
Embrace, embrace, be kin:
Immanuel 's born in Bethlehem,
And gracious years begin!"

It dies; and, half around the heavenly sphere,
Like silvery lances lightly touched aloft —
Like Northern Lights appealing to the ear,
An elfin melody chimes low and soft
That also dies, that last strange fairy-thrill:
Slowly it dies away, and all is sweetly still.

Last updated January 14, 2019