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a poem and pilgrimage in the Holy Land

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Through such retreats of dubious end
Behold the saint and student wend,
Stirring the dust that here may keep
Like that on mummies long asleep
In Theban tomb. Those alleys passed,
A little square they win—a waste
Shut in by towers so hushed, so blind,
So tenantless and left forlorn
As seemed—an ill surmise was born
Of something prowling there behind.
An arch, with key-stone slipped half down
Like a dropped jaw—they enter that;
Repulse nor welcome in the gate:
Climbed, and an upper chamber won.
It looked out through low window small
On other courts of bale shut in,
Whose languishment of crumbling wall
Breathed that despair alleged of sin.
Prediction and fulfillment met
In faint appealings from the rod:
Wherefore forever dost forget—
For so long time forsake, O God?
But Clarel turned him, heedful more
To note the place within. The floor
Rudely was tiled; and little there
A human harbor might express
Save a poor chest, a couch, a chair;
A hermitage how comfortless.
The beams of the low ceiling bare
Were wreck-stuff from the Joppa strand:
Scant the live timber in that land.


Upon the cot the host sat down,
Short breathing, with late travel spent;
And wiping beads from brow and crown,
Essayed a smile, in kindness meant.
But now a little foot was heard
Light coming. On the hush it fell
Like tinkling of the camel-bell
In Uz. “Hark! yea, she comes—my bird!”
Cried Nehemiah who hailed the hap;
“Yea, friend in Christ, quick now ye'll see
God's messenger which feedeth me;”
And rising to the expected tap,
He oped the door. Alone was seen
Ruth with a napkin coarse yet clean,
Folding a loaf. Therewith she bore
A water-pitcher, nothing more.
These alms, the snowy robe and free,
The veil which hid each tress from sight,
Might indicate a vestal white
Or priestess of sweet charity.
The voice was on the lip; but eyes
Arrested in their frank accost,
Checked speech, and looked in opening skies
Upon the stranger. Said the host,
Easing her hands, “Bird, bird, come in:
Well-doing never was a sin—
God bless thee!” In suffusion dim
His eyes filled. She eluding him,
Retreated. “What, and flown?” breathed he:
“Daily this raven comes to me;
But what should make it now so shy?”
The hermit motioned here to share
The loaf with Clarel; who put by
The proffer. So, with Crusoe air
Of castaway on isle in sea
Withdrawn, he broke the unshared bread—


But not before a blessing said:
Loaf in left hand, the right hand raised
Higher, and eyes which heavenward gazed.
Ere long—refection done—the youth
Lured him to talk of things, in range
Linking themselves at last with Ruth.
Her sire he spake of. Here 'twas strange
How o'er the enthusiast stole a change—
A meek superior look in sooth:
“Poor Nathan, did man ever stray
As thou? to Judaize to-day!
To deem the crook of Christ shall yield
To Aaron's staff! to till thy field
In hope that harvest time shall see
Solomon's hook in golden glee
Reaping the ears. Well, well! meseems—
Heaven help him; dreams, but dreams—dreams, dreams!”
“But thou, thou too, with faith sincere
Surely believ'st in Jew restored.”
“Yea, as forerunner of our Lord.—
Poor man, he's weak; 'tis even here”
Touching his forehead—“he's amiss.”
Clarel scarce found reply to this,
Conjecturing that Nathan too
Must needs hold Nehemiah in view
The same; the which an after-day
Confirmed by proof. But now from sway
Of thoughts he would not have recur,
He slid, and into dream of her
Who late within that cell shed light
Like the angel succorer by night
Of Peter dungeoned. But apace
He turned him, for he heard the breath,
The old man's breath, in sleep. The face
Though tranced, struck not like trance of death


All rigid; not a masque like that,
Iced o'er, which none may penetrate,
Conjecturing of aught below.
Death freezes, but sleep thaws. And so
The inmate lay, some lines revealed—
Effaced, when life from sleep comes back.
And what their import? Be it sealed.
But Clarel felt as in affright
Did Eliphaz the Temanite
When passed the vision ere it spake.
He stole forth, striving with his thought,
Leaving Nehemiah in slumber caught—
Alone, and in an unlocked room,
Safe as a stone in vacant tomb,
Stone none molest, for it is naught.