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a poem and pilgrimage in the Holy Land

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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.”