Herman Melville

1819 - 1891




Part II.  The Wilderness






Canto xxvii

Vine and Clarel.


While now, to serve the pilgrim train,

The Arabs willow branches hew

(For palms they serve in dearth of true),

Or, kneeling by the margin, stoop


To brim memorial bottles up;

And the Greek's wine entices two:

Apart see Clarel here incline,

Perplexed by that Dominican,

Nor less by Rolfe—capricious man:


"I cannot penetrate him.—Vine?"

As were Venetian slats between,

He espied him through a leafy screen,

Luxurious there in umbrage thrown,

Light sprays above his temples blown—


The river through the green retreat

Hurrying, reveling by his feet.

Vine looked an overture, but said

Nothing, till Clarel leaned—half laid—

Beside him: then[,] "We dream, or be


In sylvan John's baptistery:

May Pisa's equal beauty keep?—

But how bad habits persevere!

I have been moralizing here

Like any imbecile: as thus:


Look how these willows over-weep

The waves, and plain: 'Fleet so from us?

And wherefore? whitherward away?

Your best is here where wildings sway

And the light shadow's blown about;


Ah, tarry, for at hand's a sea

Whence ye shall never issue out

Once in.' They sing back: 'So let be!

We mad-caps hymn it as we flow—

Short life and merry! be it so!'"


Surprised at such a fluent turn,

The student did but listen—learn.


Putting aside the twigs which screened,

Again Vine spake, and lightly leaned[:]

"Look; in yon vault so leafy dark,


At deep end lit by gemmy spark

Of mellowed sunbeam in a snare;

Over the stream—ay, just through there—

The sheik on that celestial mare

Shot, fading.—Clan of outcast Hagar,


Well do ye come by spear and dagger!

Yet in your bearing ye outvie

Our western Red Men, chiefs that stalk

In mud paint—whirl the tomahawk.—

But in these Nimrods noted you


The natural language of the eye,

Burning or liquid, flame or dew,

As still the changeable quick mood

Made transit in the wayward blood?

Methought therein one might espy,


For all the wildness, thoughts refined

By the old Asia's dreamful mind;

But hark—a bird?"

Pure as the rain

Which diamondeth with lucid grain,


The white swan in the April hours

Floating between two sunny showers

Upon the lake, while buds unroll;

So pure, so virginal in shrine

Of true unworldliness looked Vine.


Ah, clear sweet ether of the soul

(Mused Clarel), holding him in view.

Prior advances unretumed

Not here he recked of, while he yearned—

O, now but for communion true


And close; let go each alien theme;

Give me thyself!

But Vine, at will

Dwelling upon his wayward dream,

Nor as suspecting Clarel's thrill


Of personal longing, rambled still;

"Methinks they show a lingering trace

Of some quite unrecorded race

Such as the Book of Job implies.

What ages of refinings wise


Must have forerun what there is writ—

More ages than have followed it.

At Lydda late, as chance would have,

Some tribesmen from the south I saw,

Their tents pitched in the Gothic nave,


The ruined one. Disowning law,

Not lawless lived they; no, indeed;

Their chief—why, one of Sydney's clan,

A slayer, but chivalric man;

And chivalry, with all that breed


Was Arabic or Saracen

In source, they tell. But, as men stray

Further from Ararat away

Pity it were did they recede

In carriage, manners, and the rest;


But no, for ours the palm indeed

In bland amenities far West!

Come now, for pastime let's complain;

Grudged thanks, Columbus, for thy main!

Put back, as 'twere—assigned by fate


To fight crude Nature o'er again,

By slow degrees we re-create.

But then, alas, in Arab camps

No lack, they say, no lack of scamps."

Divided mind knew Clarel here;


The heart's desire did interfere.

Thought he, How pleasant in another

Such sallies, or in thee, if said

After confidings that should wed

Our souls in one:—Ah, call me brother!


So feminine his passionate mood

Which, long as hungering unfed,

All else rejected or withstood.

Some inklings he let fall. But no:

Here over Vine there slid a change—


A shadow, such as thin may show

Gliding along the mountain-range

And deepening in the gorge below.

Does Vine's rebukeful dusking say—

Why, on this vernal bank to-day,


Why bring oblations of thy pain

To one who hath his share? here fain

Would lap him in a chance reprieve?

Lives none can help ye; that believe.

Art thou the first soul tried by doubt?


Shalt prove the last? Go, live it out.

But for thy fonder dream of love

In man toward man—the soul's caress—

The negatives of flesh should prove

Analogies of non-cordialness


In spirit.—E'en such conceits could cling

To Clarel's dream of vain surmise

And imputation full of sting.

But, glancing up, unwarned he saw

What serious softness in those eyes


Bent on him. Shyly they withdraw.

Enslaver, wouldst thou but fool me

With bitter-sweet, sly sorcery,

Pride's pastime? or wouldst thou indeed,

Since things unspoken may impede,


Let flow thy nature but for bar?—

Nay, dizzard, sick these feelings are;

How findest place within thy heart

For such solicitudes apart

From Ruth?—Self-taxings.


But a sign

Came here indicative from Vine,

Who with a reverent hushed air

His view directed toward the glade

Beyond, wherein a niche was made


Of leafage, and a kneeler there,

The meek one, on whom, as he prayed,

A golden shaft of mellow light,

Oblique through vernal cleft above,

And making his pale forehead bright,


Scintillant fell. By such a beam

From heaven descended erst the dove

On Christ emerging from the stream.

It faded; 'twas a transient ray;

And, quite unconscious of its sheen,


The suppliant rose and moved away,

Not dreaming that he had been seen.


When next they saw that innocent,

From prayer such cordial had he won

That all his aspect of content


As with the oil of gladness shone.

Less aged looked he. And his cheer

Took language in an action here:

The train now mustering in line,

Each pilgrim with a river-palm


In hand (except indeed the Jew),

The saint the head-stall need entwine

With wreathage of the same. When new

They issued from the wood, no charm

The ass found in such idle gear


Superfluous: with her long ear

She flapped it off, and the next thrust

Of hoof imprinted it in dust.

Meek hands (mused Vine), vainly ye twist

Fair garland for the realist.


The Hebrew, noting whither bent

Vine's glance, a word in passing lent:

"Ho, tell us how it comes to be

That thou who rank'st not with beginners

Regard have for yon chief of sinners."


"Yon chief of sinners?"

"So names he

Himself. For one I'll not express

How I do loathe such lowliness."