Herman Melville

1819 - 1891




Part I.  Jerusalem






Canto xiii

The Arch.


Blue-lights sent up by ship forlorn

Are answered oft but by the glare

Of rockets from another, torn

In the same gale's inclusive snare.



'Twas then when Celio was lanced

By novel doubt, the encounter chanced

In Gihon, as recited late,

And at a time when Clarel too,

On his part, felt the grievous weight


Of those demoniacs in view;

So that when Celio advanced

No wonder that the meeting eyes

Betrayed reciprocal surmise

And interest. 'Twas thereupon


The Italian, as the eve drew on,

Regained the gate, and hurried in

As he would passionately win

Surcease to thought by rapid pace.

Eastward he bent, across the town,


Till in the Via Crucis lone

An object there arrested him.

With gallery which years deface,

Its bulk athwart the alley grim,

The arch named Ecce Homo threw;


The same, if child-like faith be true,

From which the Lamb of God was shown

By Pilate to the wolfish crew.

And Celio—in frame how prone

To kindle at that scene recalled—


Perturbed he stood, and heart-enthralled.

No raptures which with saints prevail,

Nor trouble of compunction born

He felt, as there he seemed to scan

Aloft in spectral guise, the pale


Still face, the purple robe, and thorn;

And inly cried—Behold the Man!

Yon Man it is this burden lays:

Even he who in the pastoral hours,

Abroad in fields, and cheered by flowers,


Announced a heaven's unclouded days;

And, ah, with such persuasive lips—

Those lips now sealed while doom delays—

Won men to look for solace there;

But, crying out in death's eclipse,


When rainbow none his eyes might see,

Enlarged the margin for despair—

My God, my God, forsakest me?

Upbraided we upbraid again;

Thee we upbraid; our pangs constrain


Pathos itself to cruelty.

Ere yet thy day no pledge was given

Of homes and mansions in the heaven—

Paternal homes reserved for us;

Heart hoped it not, but lived content—


Content with life's own discontent,

Nor deemed that fate ere swerved for us:

The natural law men let prevail;

Then reason disallowed the state

Of instinct's variance with fate.


But thou—ah, see, in rack how pale

Who did the world with throes convulse;

Behold him—yea—behold the Man

Who warranted if not began

The dream that drags out its repulse.


Nor less some cannot break from thee;

Thy love so locked is with thy lore,

They may not rend them and go free:

The head rejects; so much the more

The heart embraces—what? the love?


If true what priests avouch of thee,

The shark thou mad'st, yet claim'st the dove.

Nature and thee in vain we search:

Well urged the Jews within the porch—

"How long wilt make us still to doubt?"


How long?—'Tis eighteen cycles now—

Enigma and evasion grow;

And shall we never find thee out?

What isolation lones thy state

That all we else know cannot mate


With what thou teachest? Nearing thee

All footing fails us; history

Shows there a gulf where bridge is none!

In lapse of unrecorded time,

Just after the apostles' prime,


What chance or craft might break it down?

Served this a purpose? By what art

Of conjuration might the heart

Of heavenly love, so sweet, so good,

Corrupt into the creeds malign,


Begetting strife's pernicious brood,

Which claimed for patron thee divine?

Anew, anew,

For this thou bleedest, Anguished Face;

Yea, thou through ages to accrue,


Shalt the Medusa shield replace:

In beauty and in terror too

Shalt paralyze the nobler race—

Smite or suspend, perplex, deter—

Tortured, shalt prove a torturer.


Whatever ribald Future be,

Thee shall these heed, amaze their hearts with thee—

Thy white, thy red, thy fairness and thy tragedy.


He turned, uptorn in inmost frame,

Nor weened he went the way he came,


Till meeting two there, nor in calm—

A monk and layman, one in creed,

The last with novice-ardor warm,

New-comer, and devout indeed,

To whom the other was the guide,


And showed the Places. "Here," he cried,

At pause before a wayside stone,

"Thou mark'st the spot where that bad Jew

His churlish taunt at Jesus threw

Bowed under cross with stifled moan:


Caitiff, which for that cruel wrong

Thenceforth till Doomsday drives along."

Starting, as here he made review,

Celio winced—Am I the Jew?

Without delay, afresh he turns


Descending by the Way of Thorns,

Winning the Proto-Martyr's gate,

And goes out down Jehoshaphat.

Beside him slid the shadows flung

By evening from the tomb-stones tall


Upon the bank far sloping from the wall.

Scarce did he heed, or did but slight

The admonishment the warder rung

That with the setting of the sun,

Now getting low and all but run,


The gate would close, and for the night.