University of Virginia Library


From vehemence too mad to stem
Fain would they turn and solace them.
Turn where they may they find a dart.
For while recumbent here they view,
Beneath them spread, the seats malign,
Nehemiah recurs—in last recline
A hermit there. And some renew
Their wonderment at such a heart
Single in life—in death, how far apart!
That life they question, seek a clew:
Those virtues which his meekness knew,
Marked these indeed but wreckful wane
Of strength, or the organic man?


The hardy hemlock, if subdued,
Decays to violets in the wood,
Which put forth from the sodden stem:
His virtues, might they breed like them?
Nor less that tale by Rolfe narrated
(Thrown out some theory to achieve),
Erewhile upon Mount Olivet,
That sea-tale of the master fated;
Not wholly might it here receive
An application such as met
The case. It needed something more
Or else, to penetrate the core.
But Clarel—made remindful so
Of by-gone things which death can show
In kindled meaning—here revealed
That once Nehemiah his lips unsealed
(How prompted he could not recall)
In story which seemed rambling all,
And yet, in him, not quite amiss.
In pointed version it was this:
A gentle wight of Jesu's trade,
A carpenter, for years had made
His living in a quiet dell,
And toiled and ate and slept alone,
Esteemed a harmless witless one.
Had I a friend thought he, 'twere well.
A friend he made, and through device
Of jobbing for him without price.
But on a day there came a word—
A word unblest, a blow abhorred.
Thereafter, in the mid of night,
When from the rafter and the joist
The insect ticked; and he, lone sprite,
How wakeful lay, what word was voiced?
Me love; fear only man. And he—
He willed what seemed too strange to be:


The hamlet marveled and the glade:
Interring him within his house,
He there his monastery made,
And grew familiar with the mouse.
Down to the beggar who might sing,
Alms, silent alms, unseen he'd fling,
And cakes to children. But no more
Abroad he went, till spent and gray,
Feet foremost he was borne away.
As when upon a misty shore
The watchful seaman marks a light
Blurred by the fog, uncertain quite;
And thereto instant turns the glass
And studies it, and thinks it o'er
By compass: Is't the cape we pass?
So Rolfe from Clarel's mention caught
Food for an eagerness of thought:
“It bears, it bears; such things may be:
Shut from the busy world's pell-mell
And man's aggressive energy—
In cloistral Palestine to dwell
And pace the stone!”
And Mortmain heard,
Attesting; more his look did tell
Than comment of a bitter word.
Meantime the ass, high o'er the bed
Late scooped by Siddim's borders there—
As stupefied by brute despair,
Motionless hung the earthward head.