16. The Wall of Wail -

by Herman Melville

Herman Melville

Beneath the toppled ruins old
In series from Moriah rolled
Slips Kedron furtive? underground,
Peasants avouch they hear the sound
In aisled lagunes and watery halls
Under the temple, silent sleep
What memories elder? Far and deep
What ducts and chambered wells and walls.
And many deep substructions be
Which so with doubt and gloom agree,
To question one is borne along
Based these the Right? subserved the Wrong?
'Twas by an all-forgotten way,
Whose mouth in outer glen forbid
By heaps of rubbish long lay hid,
Cloaca of remotest day;
'Twas by that unsuspected vault
With outlet in mid city lone,
A spot with ruin all bestrown —
The peasants in sedition late
Captured Jerusalem in strait,
Took it by underground assault.
Go wander, and within the walls,
Among the glades of cactus trees
Where no life harbours, peers or calls —
Wild solitudes like shoals in seas
Unsailed; or list at still sundown,
List to the hand-mills as they drone,
Domestic hand-mills in the court,
And groups there in the dear resort,
Mild matron pensive by her son,
The little prattler at her knee:
Under such scenes abysses be —
Dark quarries where few care to pry,
Whence came those many cities high —
Great capitals successive reared,
And which successive disappeared
On this same site. To powder ground,
Dispersed their dust blows round and round.
No shallow gloss may much avail
When these or kindred thoughts assail:
Which Clarel proved, the more he went
A rover in their element.
For — trusting still that in some place
Where pilgrims linger he anew
The missing stranger yet would face
And speak with — never he withdrew
His wandering feet.
In aimless sort
Passing across the town amort,
They came where camped in corner waste,
Some Edomites were at repast —
Sojourners mere, and of a day —
Dark-hued, nor unlike birds of prey
Which on the stones of Tyre alight.
While Clarel fed upon that sight —
The saint repeating in his ear
Meet text applying to the scene —
As liberated from ravine,
Voices in choral note they hear;
And, strange as lilies in morass,
At the same moment, lo, appear
Emerging from a stony pass,
A lane low-vaulted and unclean,
Damsels in linen robes, heads bare,
Enlinked with matrons pacing there,
And elders gray; the maids with book:
Companions would one page o'erlook;
And vocal thus they wound along,
No glad procession, spite the song.
For truth to own, so downcast they —
At least the men, in sordid dress
And double file — the slim array,
But for the maidens' gentleness
And voices which so bird-like sang,
Had seemed much like a coffle gang.
But Nehemiah a key supplied:
" Alas, poor misled Jews," he sighed,
" Ye do but dirge among your dead. —
The Hebrew quarter here we tread;
And this is Friday; Wailing Day:
These to the Temple wend their way.
And shall we follow?" Doing so
They came upon a sunken yard
Obscure, where dust and rubbish blow.
Felonious place, and quite debarred
From common travel. On one side
A blind wall rose, stable and great —
Massed up immense, an Ararat
Founded on bevelled blocks how wide,
Reputed each a stone august
Of Solomon's fane (else fallen to dust)
But now adopted for the wall
To Islam's courts. There, lord of all,
The Turk permits the tribes to creep
Abject in rear of those dumb stones,
To lean or kneel, lament and weep;
Sad mendicants shut out from gate
Inexorable. Sighs and groans:
To be restored! we wait, long wait!
They call to count their pristine state
On this same ground: the lifted rows
Of peristyles; the porticoes
Crown upon crown, where Levite trains
In chimes of many a silver bell
(Daintily small as pearls in chain)
Hemming their mantles musical —
Passed in procession up and down,
Viewing the belt of guarding heights,
And march of shadows there, and flights
Of pigeon-pets, and palm leaves blown;
Or heard the silver trumpets call —
The priestly trumps, to festival.
So happy they; such Judah's prime
But we, the remnant, lo, we pale;
Cast from the Temple, here we wail —
Yea, perish ere come Shiloh's time.
Hard by that joyless crew which leant
With brows against the adamant —
Sad buttresses thereto — hard by —
The student marks the Black Jew bowed:
His voice he hears amid the crowd
Which supplicate stern Shaddei.
And earnest, too, he seeth there
One scarcely Hebrew in his dress
Rural, and hard cheek's swarthiness,
With nothing of an Eastern air.
His eyes met Clarel's unremoved —
In end a countryman he proved,
A strange apostate. On the twain
Contrasted so — the white, the black —
Man's earliest breed and latest strain —
Behind the master Moslem's back
Skulking, and in great Moses' track —
Gazed Clarel with the wonderment
Of wight who feels the earth upheave
Beneath him, and learns, ill-content
That terra firma can deceive.
When now those Friday wails were done,
Nehemiah, sidling with his book
Unto a lorn decrepit one,
Proffered a tract: " 'Tis Hebrew, look,"
Zealous he urged; " it points the way,
Sole way, dear heart, whereby ye may
Rebuild the Temple." Answer none
Gat he from Isaac's pauper son,
Who, turning, part as in disdain,
Crept toward his squalid home. Again
Enrapt stood Clarel, lost awhile:
" Yon Jew has faith; can faith be vain?
But is it faith? ay, faith 's the word —
What else? Faith then can thus beguile
Her faithfulest. Hard, that is hard!"
So doubts invaded, found him out.
He strove with them; but they proved stout,
Nor would they down.
But turn regard.
Among the maids those rites detained,
One he perceived, as it befell,
Whose air expressed such truth unfeigned,
And harmonies inlinked which dwell
In pledges born of record pure —
She looked a legate to insure
That Paradise is possible
Now as hereafter. 'Twas the grace
Of Nature's dawn: an Eve-like face
And Nereid eyes with virgin spell
Candid as day, yet baffling quite
Like day, through unreserve of light.
A dove, she seemed, a temple dove,
Born in the temple or its grove,
And nurtured there. But deeper viewed,
What was it that looked part amiss?
A bit impaired? what lack of peace?
Enforced suppression of a mood,
Regret with yearning intertwined,
And secret protest of a virgin mind.
Hebrew the profile, every line;
But as in haven fringed with palm,
Which Indian reefs embay from harm,
Belulled as in the vase the wine —
Red-budded corals in remove,
Peep coy through quietudes above;
So through clear olive of the skin,
And features finely Hagarene;
Its way a tell-tale flush did win —
A tint which unto Israel's sand
Blabbed of the June in some far clover land.
Anon by chance the damsel's eye
Fell on Nehemiah, and the look
A friendly recognition spoke,
Returned in kind. When by and by
The groups brake up and homeward bent;
Then, nor unnoted by the youth,
That maiden with the apostate went,
Whose voice paternal called her — " Ruth!"
" Tell, friend," said Clarel eagerly,
As from the wall of wail they passed;
" Father and daughter? Who may be
That strange pervert?" No willing haste
The mentor showed; a while he fed
On anxious thoughts; then grievingly
The story gave — a tangled thread,
Which, cleared from snarl and ordered so,
Follows transferred, with interflow
Of much Nehemiah scarce might add.





Last updated January 14, 2019