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a poem and pilgrimage in the Holy Land

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Needs well to know the distant site
(Like Agath, who late on the way
From Joppa here had made delay)
Ere, if unprompted, thou aright
Mayst single Zion's mountain out
From kindred summits roundabout.
Abandoned quarry mid the hills
Remote, as well one's dream fulfills
Of what Jerusalem should be,
As that vague heap, whose neutral tones
Blend in with Nature's, helplessly:
Stony metropolis of stones.
But much as distant shows the town
Erst glorious under Solomon,
Appears now, in these latter days,
To languid eyes, through dwelling haze,
The city St. John saw so bright
With sardonyx and ruby? Gleam
No more, like Monte Rosa's hight,
Thy towers, O New Jerusalem?
To Patmos now may visions steal?
Lone crag where lone the ospreys wheel!
Such thought, or something near akin,
Touched Clarel, and perchance might win
(To judge them by their absent air)
Others at hand. But not of these
The Illyrian bold: impatient stare
He random flung; then, like a breeze
Which fitful rushes through the glen
Over clansmen low—Prince Charlie's men—


Shot down the ledges, while the clang
Of saber 'gainst the stirrup rang,
And clinked the steel shoe on the stone.
His freak of gallantry in cheer
Of barbarous escort ending here,
Back for the stronghold dashed he lone.
When died the din, it left them more
Becalmed upon that hollow shore.
Not slack was ocean's wrinkled son
In study of the mountain town—
Much like himself, indeed, so gray
Left in life's waste to slow decay.
For index now as he stretched forth
His loose-sleeved arm in sailor way
Pointing the bearings south and north,
Derwent, arrested, cried, “Dost bleed?”
Touching the naked skin: “Look here—
A living fresco!” And indeed,
Upon the fore-arm did appear
A thing of art, vermil and blue,
A crucifixion in tattoo,
With trickling blood-drops strange to see.
Above that emblem of the loss,
Twin curving palm-boughs draping met
In manner of a canopy
Over an equi-limbed small cross
And three tri-spiked and sister crowns:
And under these a star was set:
And all was tanned and toned in browns.
In chapel erst which knew the mass,
A mullioned window's umber glass
Dyed with some saintly legend old,
Obscured by cobwebs; this might hold
Some likeness to the picture rare
On arm here webbed with straggling hair.


“Leave out the crucifixion's hint,”
Said Rolfe, “the rest will show in tint
The Ensign: palms, cross, diadems,
And star—the Sign!—Jerusalem's,
Coeval with King Baldwin's sway.—
Skilled monk in sooth ye need have sought
In Saba.”
Quoth the sea-sage: “Nay;
Sketched out it was one Christmas day
Off Java-Head. Little I thought
(A heedless lad, scarce through youth's straits—
How hopeful on the wreckful way)
What meant this thing which here ye see,
The bleeding man upon the tree;
Since then I've felt it, and the fates.”
“Ah—yes,” sighed Derwent; “yes, indeed!
But 'tis the Ensign now we heed.”
The stranger here his dusk eye ran
In reading sort from man to man,
Cleric to sailor—back again.
“But, shipmate,” Derwent cried; “tell me:
How came you by this blazonry?”
“We seamen, when there's naught to do
In calms, the straw for hats we plait,
Or one another we tattoo
With marks we copy from a mate,
Which he has from his elders ta'en,
And those from prior ones again;
And few, if any, think or reck
But so with pains their skin to deck.
This crucifixion, though, by some
A charm is held 'gainst watery doom.”
“Comrades,” said Rolfe, “'tis here we note
Downhanded in a way blind-fold,
A pious use of times remote.


Ah, but it dim grows, and more dim,
The gold of legend, that fine gold!
Washed in with wine of Bethlehem,
This Ensign in the ages old
Was stamped on every pilgrim's arm
By grave practitioners elect
Whose calling lacked not for respect
In Zion. Like the sprig of palm,
Token it was at home, that he
Which bore, had kneeled at Calvary.
Nay, those monk-soldiers helmet-crowned,
Whose effigies in armed sleep, lie—
Stone, in the stony Temple round
In London; and (to verify
Them more) with carved greaves crossed, for sign
Of duty done in Palestine;
Exceeds it, pray, conjecture fair,
These may have borne this blazon rare,
And not alone on standard fine,
But pricked on chest or sinewy arm,
Pledged to defend against alarm
His tomb for whom they warred? But see,
From these mailed Templars now the sign,
Losing the import and true key,
Descends to boatswains of the brine.”
Clarel, reposing there aside,
By secret thought preoccupied,
Now, as he inward chafe would shun,
A feigned quick interest put on:
“The import of these marks? Tell me.”
“Come, come,” cried Derwent; “dull ye bide!
By palm-leaves here are signified
Judæa, as on the Roman gem;
The cross scarce needs a word, agree;


The crowns are for the magi three;
This star—the star of Bethlehem.”
“One might have known;” and fell anew
In void relapse.
“Why, why so blue?”
Derwent again; and rallying ran:
“While now for Bethlehem we aim,
Our stellar friend the post should claim
Of guide. We'll put him in the van—
Follow the star on the tattooed man,
We wise men here.—What's that?”
A gun,
At distance fired, startles the group.
Around they gaze, and down and up;
But in the wilds they seem alone.
Long time the echo sent its din,
Hurled roundabout, and out and in—
A foot-ball tossed from crag to crag;
Then died away in ether thin—
Died, as they deemed, yet did but lag,
For all abrupt one far rebound
Gave pause; that o'er, the hush was crowned.
“We loiter,” Derwent said, in tone
Uneasy; “come, shall we go on?”
“Wherefore?” the saturnine demands.
Toward him they look, for his eclipse
There gave way for the first; and stands
The adage old, that one's own lips
Proclaim the character: “A gun:
A gun's man's voice—sincerest one.
Blench we to have assurance here,
Here in the waste, that kind is near?”
Eyes settle on his scars in view,
Both warp and burn, the which evince
Experience of the thing he hints.
“Nay—hark!” and all turn round anew:


Remoter shot came duller there:
“The Arnaut—and but fires in air,”
Djalea averred: “his last adieu.”
By chance directed here in thought,
Clarel upon that warrior haught
Low mused: The rowel of thy spur
The robe rips of philosopher!
Naught reckest thou of wisest book:
The creeds thou star'st down with a look.
And how the worse for such wild sense?
And where is wisdom's recompense?
And as for heaven—Oh, heavens enlarge
Beyond each designated marge:
Valhalla's hall would hardly bar
Welcome to one whose end need be
In grace and grief of harnessed war,
To sink mid swords and minstrelsy.
So willful! but 'tis loss and smart,
Clarel, in thy dissolving heart.
Will't form anew?
Vine's watchful eye,
While none perceived where bent his view,
Had fed on Agath sitting by;
He seemed to like him, one whose print
The impress bore of Nature's mint.
Authentic; man of nature true,
If simple; naught that slid between
Him and the elemental scene—
Unless it were that thing indeed
Uplooming from his ancient creed;
Yet that but deepen might the sense
Of awe, and serve dumb reverence
And resignation.—“Anywhere,”
Asked Vine—here now to converse led—


“In those far regions, strange or rare,
Where thou hast been, may aught compare
With Judah here?”
“Sooth, sir,” he said,
“Some chance comparison I've made
In mind, between this stricken land
And one far isle forever banned
I camped on in life's early days:
I view it now—but through a haze:
Our boats I view, reversed, turned down
For shelter by the midnight sea;
The very slag comes back to me
I raked for shells, but found not one;
That harpy sea-hawk—him I view
Which, pouncing, from the red coal drew
Our hissing meat—we lounging nigh—
An instant's dash—and with it flew
To his sea-rock detached, his cry
Thence sent, to mock the marl we threw:—
I hear, I see; return those days
Again—but 'tis through deepening haze:
How like a flash that life is gone—
So brief the youth by sailors known!”
“But tell us, tell,” now others cried,
And grouped them as by hearth-stone wide.
The timoneer, at hazard thrown
With men of order not his own,
Evinced abashment, yes, proved shy.
They urged; and he could but comply.
But, more of clearness to confer—
Less dimly to express the thing
Rude outlined by this mariner,
License is claimed in rendering;
And tones he felt but scarce might give,
The verse essays to interweave.