15. Under the Minaret -

by Herman Melville

Herman Melville

Lo, shoot the spikes above the hill:
Now expectation grows and grows;
Yet vain the pageant, idle still:
When one would get at Nature's will —
To be put off by purfled shows!
He breaks. Behold, thou orb supreme,
'Tis Olivet which thou ascendest —
The hill and legendary chapel;
Yet how indifferent thy beam!
Awe nor reverence pretendest:
Dome and summit dost but dapple
With gliding touch, a tinging gleam:
Knowest thou the Christ? believest in the dream?
'Twas Celio — seated there, as late,
Upon the mound. But now the gate
Flung open, welcomes in the day,
And lets out Clarel with the guide;
These from the wall had hailed the ray;
And Celio heard them there aside,
And turning, rose. Was it to greet?
But ere they might accost or meet,
From minaret in grounds hard by
Of Omar, the muezzin's cry —
Tardy, for Mustapha was old,
And age a laggard is — was rolled,
Announcing Islam's early hour
Of orison. Along the walls
And that deep gulf over which these tower —
Far down toward Rogel, hark, it calls!
Can Siloa hear it, yet her wave
So listless lap the hollow cave?
Is Zion deaf? But, promptly still,
Each turban at that summons shrill,
Which should have called ere perfect light,
Bowed — hands on chest, or arms upright;
While over all those fields of loss
Where now the Crescent rides the Cross,
Sole at the marble mast-head stands
The Islam herald, his two hands
Upon the rail, and sightless eyes
Turned upward reverent toward the skies.
And none who share not this defect
The rules to function here elect;
Since, raised upon the lifted perch
What leave for prying eyes to search
Into the privacies that lurk
In courts domestic of the Turk,
Whose tenements in every town
Guard well against the street alone.
But what's evoked in Clarel's mien —
What look, responsive look is seen
In Celio, as together there
They pause? Can these a climax share?
Mutual in approach may glide
Minds which from poles adverse have come,
Belief and unbelief? may doom
Of doubt make such to coincide
Upon one frontier brought to dwell
Arrested by the Ezan high
In summons as from out the sky
To matins of the infidel?
The God alleged, here in abode
Ignored with such impunity,
Scarce true is writ a jealous God.
Think ye such thoughts? If so it be,
Yet these may eyes transmit and give?
Mere eyes? so quick, so sensitive?
Howbeit Celio knew his mate:
Again, as down in Gihon late,
He hovered with his overture —
An overture that scorned debate.
But inexperienced, shy, unsure —
Challenged abrupt, or yea or nay,
Again did Clarel hesitate;
When quick the proud one with a look
Which might recoil of heart betray,
And which the other scarce might brook
In recollection, turned away.
Ah, student, ill thy sort have sped:
The instant proffer — it is fled!
When, some days after, for redress
Repentant Clarel sought access,
He learned the name, with this alone —
From convent Celio was gone,
Nor knew they whither.
Here in press
To Clarel came a dreamy token:
What speck is that so far away
That wanes and wanes in waxing day?
Is it the sail ye fain had spoken
Last night when surges parted ye?
But on, it is a boundless sea.

Last updated March 26, 2023