University of Virginia Library


If where, in blocks unbeautified,
But lath and plaster may divide
The cot of dole from bed of bride;
Here, then, a page's slender shell
Is thick enough to set between
The graver moral, lighter mien—
The student and the cap-and-bell.
'Tis nature.
Pastime to achieve,
After he reverent did leave
The dozer in the gallery,
Derwent, good man of pleasantry,
He sauntered by the stables old,
And there the ass spied through a door,
Lodged in a darksome stall or hold,
The head communing with the floor.
Taking some barley, near at hand,
He entered, but was brought to stand,


Hearing a voice: “Don't bother her;
She cares not, she, for provender;
Respect her nunnery, her cell:
She's pondering, see, the asses' hell.”
He turned; it was the Lesbian wag,
Who offered straight to be his guide
Even anywhere, be it vault or crag.
“Well, thanks; but first to feed your nun,
She fasts overmuch.—There, it is done.
Come show me, do, that famous tide
Evoked up from the waste, they tell,
The canonized abbot's miracle,
St. Saba's fount: where soams it, pray?”
“Near where the damned ones den.” “What say?”
“Down, plummets down. But come along;”
And leading, whiled the way with song:
“Saintly lily, credit me,
Sweet is the thigh of the honey-bee!
Ruddy ever and oleose,
Ho for the balm of the red, red rose!”
Stair after stair, and stair again,
And ladder after ladder free,
Lower and steeper, till the strain
Of cord irked Derwent: “Verily,
E'en as but now you lightly said,
'Tis to Avernus we are bending;
And how much further this descending?”
At last they dropped down on the bed
Of Kedron, sought a cavern dead
And there the fount.
“'Tis cool to sip,
I'm told; my cup, here 'tis; wilt dip?”
And proffered it: “With me, with me,


Alas, this natural dilution
Of water never did agree;
Mine is a touchy constitution;
'Tis a respectable fluid though.
Ah, you don't care. Well, come out, do.
The thing to mark here's not the well,
But Saba in her crescent swell,
Terrace on terrace piled. And see,
Up there by yon small balcony
Our famous palm stands sentinel.
Are you a good believer?” “Why?”
“Because that blessed tree (not I,
But all our monks avouch it so)
Was set a thousand years ago
By dibble in St. Saba's hand.”
“Indeed? Heaven crown him for it. Palm!
Thou benediction in the land,
A new millennium may'st thou stand:
So fair, no fate would do thee harm.”
Much he admired the impressive view;
Then facing round and gazing up
Where soared the crags: “Yon grottoes few—
Which make the most ambitious group
Of all the laura row on row,
Can one attain?” “Forward!” And so
Up by a cloven rift they plied—
Saffron and black—branded beside,
Like to some felon's wall of cell
Smoked with his name. Up they impel
Till Derwent, overwearied, cried:
“Dear Virgil mine, you are so strong,
But I, thy Dante, am nigh dead.”
“Who daunts ye, friend? don't catch the thread.”
“The ascending path was ever long.”
“Ah yes; well, cheer it with a song:


“My love but she has little feet
And slippers of the rose,
From under—Oh, the lavender sweet—
Just peeping out, demurely neat;
But she, she never knows—
No, no, she never knows!
“A dimpled hand is hers, and e'en
As dainty as her toes;
In mine confiding it she'll lean
Till heaven knows what my tinglings mean;
But she, she never knows—
Oh no, she never knows!
“No, never!—Hist!”
“Nay, revelers, stay.
Lachryma Christi makes ye glad!
Where joys he now shall next go mad?
His snare the spider weaves in sun:
But ye, your lease has yet to run;
Go, go: from ye no countersign.”
Such incoherence! where lurks he,
The ghoul, the riddler? in what mine?
It came from an impending crag
Or cleft therein, or cavity.
The man of bins a bit did drag;
But quick to Derwent, “Never lag:
A crazy friar; but prithee, haste:
I know him,—Cyril; there, we've passed.”
“Well, that is queer—the queerest thing,”
Said Derwent, breathing nervously,
“He's ever ready with his sting,
Though dozing in his grotto dull.”
“Demented—pity! let him be.”
“Ay, if he like that kind of hull,
Let the poor wasp den in the skull.”


“What's that?” here Derwent; “that shrill cry?”
And glanced aloft; “for mercy, look!”
A great bird crossed high up in sky
Over the gulf; and, under him,
Its downward flight a black thing took,
And, eddying by the path's sheer rim,
Still spun below: “'Tis Mortmain's cap,
The skull-cap!” “Skull is't? say ye skull
From heaven flung into Kedron's lap?
The gods were ever bountiful!
No—there: I see. Small as a wren—
That death's head of all mortal men—
Look where he's perched on topmost crag,
Bareheaded brooding. Oh, the hag,
That from the very brow could pluck
The cap of a philosopher
So near the sky, then, with a mock,
Disdain and drop it.” “Queer, 'tis queer
Indeed!” “One did the same to me,
Yes, much the same—pecked at my hat,
I mountain-riding, dozingly,
Upon a dromedary drear.
The devil's in these eagles-gier.
She ones they are, be sure of that,
That be so saucy.—Ahoy there, thou!”
Shooting the voice in sudden freak
Athwart the chasm, where wended slow
The timoneer, that pilgrim Greek,
The graybeard in the mariner trim,
The same that told the story o'er
Of crazy compass and the Moor.
But he, indeed, not hearing him,
Pursued his way.
“That salted one,
That pickled old sea-Solomon,


Tempests have deafened him, I think.
He has a tale can make ye wink;
And pat it comes in too. But dwell!
Here, sit we down here while I tell.”