University of Virginia Library



At night upon the darkling main
To ship return with muffled sound
The rowers without comment vain—
The messmate overboard not found:
So, baffled in deep quest but late,
These on the mountain.
But from chat
With Belex in campaigning mood,
Derwent drew nigh. The sight of him
Ruffled the Swede—evoked a whim
Which took these words: “O, well bestowed!
Hither and help us, man of God:
Doctor of consolation, here!
Be warned though: truth won't docile be
To codes of good society.”
Allowing for pain's bitter jeer,
Or hearing but in part perchance,
The comely cleric pilgrim came
With what he might of suiting frame,
And air approaching nonchalance;
And “How to serve you, friends?” he said.
“Ah, that!” cried Rolfe; “for we, misled,
We peer from brinks of all we know;
Our eyes are blurred against the haze:
Canst help us track in snow on snow
The footprint of the Ancient of Days?
“Scarce without snow-shoes;” Derwent mild
In gravity; “But come; we've whiled
The time; up then, and let us go.”
“Delay,” said Mortmain; “stay, roseace:
What word is thine for sinking heart,


What is thy wont in such a case,
Who sends for thee to act thy part
Consoling—not in life's last hour
Indeed—but when some deprivation sore
Unnerves, and every hope lies flat?”
That troubled Derwent, for the tone
Brake into tremble unbeknown
E'en to the speaker. Down he sat
Beside them: “Well, if such one—nay!
But never yet such sent for me—
I mean, none in that last degree;
Assume it though: to him I'd say—
‘The less in hand the more in store,
Dear friend.’ No formula I'd trace,
But honest comfort face to face;
And, yes, with tonic strong I'd brace,
Closing with cheerful Paul in lore
Of text—Rejoice ye evermore.”
The Swede here of a sudden drooped,
A hump dropped on him, one would say;
He reached and some burnt gravel scooped,
Then stared down on the plain away.
The priest in fidget moved to part:
“Abide,” said Mortmain with a start;
“Abide, for more I yet would know:
Is God an omnipresent God?
Is He in Siddim yonder? No?
If anywhere He's disavowed
How think to shun the final schism—
Blind elements, flat atheism?”
Whereto the priest: “Far let it be
That ground where Durham's prelate stood
Who saw no proof that God was good
But only righteous.—Woe is me!
These controversies. Oft I've said
That never, never would I be led


Into their maze of vanity.
Behead me—rid me of pride's part
And let me live but by the heart!”
“Hast proved thy heart? first prove it. Stay:
The Bible, tell me, is it true,
And thence deriv'st thy flattering view?”
But Derwent glanced aside, as vexed;
Inly assured, nor less perplexed
How to impart; and grieved too late
At being drawn within the strait
Of vexed discussion: nor quite free
From ill conjecture, that the Swede,
Though no dissembler, yet indeed
Part played on him: “Why question me?
Why pound the text? Ah, modern be,
And share the truth's munificence.
Look now, one reasons thus: Immense
Is tropic India; hence she breeds
Brahma tremendous, gods like seeds.
The genial clime of Hellas gay
Begat Apollo. Take that way;
Nor query—Ramayana true?
The Iliad?”
Mortmain nothing said,
But lumped his limbs and sunk his head.
Then Rolfe to Derwent: “But the Jew:
Since clime and country, as you own,
So much effect, how with the Jew
There Derwent sat him down
Afresh, well pleased and leisurely,
As one in favorite theory
Invoked: “That bondman from his doom
By Nile, and subsequent distress,
With punishment in wilderness,


Methinks he brought an added gloom
To nature here. Here church and state
He founded—would perpetuate
Exclusive and withdrawn. But no:
Advancing years prohibit rest;
All turns or alters for the best.
Time ran; and that expansive light
Of Greeks about the bordering sea,
Their happy genial spirits bright,
Wit, grace urbane, amenity
Contagious, and so hard to ban
By bigot law, or any plan;
These influences stole their way,
Affecting here and there a Jew;
Likewise the Magi tincture too
Derived from the Captivity:
Hence Hillel's fair reforming school,
Liberal gloss and leavening rule.
How then? could other issue be
At last but ferment and a change?
True, none recanted or dared range:
To Moses' law they yet did cling,
But some would fain have tempering—
In the bare place a bit of green.
And lo, an advent—the Essene,
Gentle and holy, meek, retired,
With virgin charity inspired:
Precursor, nay, a pledge, agree,
Of light to break from Galilee.
And, ay, He comes: the lilies blow!
In hamlet, field, and on the road,
To every man, in every mode
How did the crowning Teacher show
His broad and blessed comity.
I do avow He still doth seem
Pontiff of optomists supreme!”


The Swede sat stone-like. Suddenly:
“Leave thy carmine! From thorns the streak
Ruddies enough that tortured cheek.
'Twas Shaftesbury first assumed your tone,
Trying to cheerfulize Christ's moan.”
“Nay now,” plead Derwent, earnest here,
And in his eyes the forming tear;
“But hear me, hear!”
“No more of it!”
And rose. It was his passion-fit.
The other changed; his pleasant cheer,
Confronted by that aspect wild,
Dropped like the flower from Ceres' child
In Enna, seeing the pale brow
Of Pluto dank from scud below.
Though by Genthsemane, where first
Derwent encountered Mortmain's mien,
Christian forbearance well he nursed,
Allowing for distempered spleen;
Now all was altered, quite reversed—
'Twas now as at the burial scene
By Siddim's marge. And yet—and yet
Was here a proof the priest had met
His confutation? Hardly so
(Mused Clarel) but he longed to know
How it could be, that while the rest
Contented scarce the splenetic Swede,
They hardly so provoked the man
To biting outburst unrepressed
As did the cleric's gentle fan.
But had the student paid more heed
To Derwent's look, he might have caught
Hints of reserves within the thought.
Nor failed the priest ere all too late
His patience here to vindicate.