by Herman Melville
As Clarel entered with the guide,
Beset they were by that sad crew —
With inarticulate clamour plied;
And faces, yet defacements too,
Appealed to them; but could not give
Expression. There, still sensitive,
Our human nature, deep inurned
In voiceless visagelessness, yearned.
Behold, proud worm (if such can be),
What yet may come, yea, even to thee.
Who knoweth? canst forecast the fate
In infinite ages? Probe thy state:
Sinless art thou? Then these sinned not.
These, these are men; and thou art — what?
For Clarel, turning in affright,
Fain would his eyes renounce the light.
But Nehemiah held on his path
Mild and unmoved — scarce seemed to heed
The suitors, or deplore the scath —
His soul preoccupied and freed.
From actual objects thro' the sway
Of visionary scenes intense —
The wonders of a mystic day
And Zion's old magnificence.
Nor hither had he come to show
The leper-huts, but only so
To visit once again the hill
And gate Davidic.
They win the port's high battlement,
And thence in sweep they view at will
That theatre of heights which hold
As in a Coliseum's fold
The guarded Zion. They command
The Mount of Solomon's Offence,
The Crag of Evil Council, and
Pit too they mark where long ago
Dull fires of refuse, shot below,
The city's litter, smouldering burned,
Clouding the glen with smoke impure,
And griming the foul shapes obscure
Of dismal chain-gangs in their shame
Raking the garbage thither spurned:
Tophet the place — transferred, in name,
To penal Hell
But shows there naught
To win here a redeeming thought?
Yes: welcome in its nearer seat
The white Caenaculum they greet,
Where still an upper room is shown —
In dream avouched the very one
Wherein the Supper first was made
And Christ those words of parting said,
Those words of love by loved St. John
So tenderly recorded. Ah,
They be above us like a star,
Those Paschal words.
But they descend;
And as within the wall they wend,
A Horror hobbling on low crutch
Draws near, but still refrains from touch.
Before the saint in low estate
He fawns, who with considerate
Mild glance regards him. Clarel shrank:
And he, is he of human rank? —
" Knowest thou him?" he asked. — " Yea, yea,"
And beamed on that disfeatured clay:
" Toulib, to me? to Him are due
These thanks — the God of me and you
And all; to whom His own shall go
In Paradise and be reclad,
Transfigured like the morning glad. —
Yea, friend in Christ, this man I know,
This fellow-man." — And afterward
The student from true sources heard
How Nehemiah had proved his friend,
Sole friend even of that trunk of woe,
When sisters failed him in the end.
Last updated January 14, 2019