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Roving along the winding verge
Trying these problems as a lock,
Clarel upon the further marge
Caught sight of Vine. Upon a rock
Low couchant there, and dumb as that,
Bent on the wave Vine moveless sat.
The student after pause drew near:
Then, as in presence which though mute
Did not repel, without salute
He joined him.
Unto these, by chance
In ruminating slow advance
Came Rolfe, and lingered.
At Vine's feet
A branchless tree lay lodged ashore,
One end immersed. Of form complete—
Half fossilized—could this have been,
In ages back, a palm-shaft green?
Yes, long detained in depths which store
A bitter virtue, there it lay,
Washed up to sight—free from decay
But dead.
And now in slouched return
From random prowlings, brief sojourn
As chance might prompt, the Jew they espy
Coasting inquisitive the shore
And frequent stooping. Ranging nigh,
In hirsute hand a flint he bore—
A flint, or stone, of smooth dull gloom:
“A jewel? not asphaltum—no:
Observe it, pray. Methinks in show
'Tis like the flagging round that Tomb


Ye celebrate.”
Rolfe, glancing, said,
“I err, or 'twas from Siddim's bed
Or quarry here, those floor-stones came:
'Tis Stone-of-Moses called, they vouch;
The Arabs know it by that name.”
“Moses? who's Moses?” Into pouch
The lump he slipped; while wistful here
Clarel in silence challenged Vine;
But not responsive was Vine's cheer,
Discharged of every meaning sign.
With motive, Rolfe the talk renewed:
“Yes, here it was the cities stood
That sank in reprobation. See,
The scene and record well agree.”
“Tut, tut—tut, tut. Of aqueous force,
Vent igneous, a shake or so,
One here perceives the sign—of course;
All's mere geology, you know.”
“Nay, how should one know that?”
“By sight,
Touch, taste—all senses in assent
Of common sense their parliament.
Judge now; this lake, with outlet none
And into which five streams discharge
From south; which east and west is shown
Walled in by Alps along the marge;
North, in this lake, the waters end
Of Jordan—end here, or dilate
Rather, and so evaporate
From surface. But do you attend?”
“Most teachably.”
“Well, now: assume
This lake was formed, even as they tell,
Then first when the Five Cities fell;
Where, I demand, ere yet that doom,


Where emptied Jordan?”
“Who can say?
Not I.”
“No, none. A point I make
Coeval are the stream and lake!
I say no more.”
As came that close
A hideous hee-haw horrible rose,
Rebounded in unearthly sort
From shore to shore, as if retort
From all the damned in Sodom's Sea
Out brayed at him. “Just God, what's that?”
“The ass,” breathed Vine, with tropic eye
Freakishly impish, nor less shy;
Then, distant as before, he sat.
Anew Rolfe turned toward Margoth then;
“May not these levels high and low
Have undergone derangement when
The cities met their overthrow?
Or say there was a lake at first—
A supposition not reversed
By Writ—a lake enlarged through doom
Which overtook the cities? Come!”—
The Jew, recovering from decline
Arising from late asinine
Applause, replied hereto in way
Eliciting from Rolfe—“Delay:
What knowest thou? or what know I?
Suspect you may ere yet you die
Or afterward perchance may learn,
That Moses' God is no mere Pam
With painted clubs, but true I AM.”
“Hog-Latin,” was the quick return;
“Plague on that ass!” for here again
Brake in the pestilent refrain.
Meanwhile, as if in a dissent


Not bordering their element,
Vine kept his place, aloof in air.
They could but part and leave him there;
The Hebrew railing as they went—
“Of all the dolorous dull men!
He's like a poor nun's pining hen.
And me too: should I let it pass?
Ass? did he say it was the ass?”
Hereat, timed like the clerk's Amen
Yet once more did the hee-haw free
Come in with new alacrity.
Vine tarried; and with fitful hand
Took bits of dead drift from the sand
And flung them to the wave, as one
Whose race of thought long since was run—
For whom the spots enlarge that blot the golden sun.