Herman Melville

1819 - 1891




Part II.  The Wilderness






Canto xxxiv

Mortmain Reappears.


While now at poise the wings of shade

Outstretched overhang each ridge and glade,

Mortmain descends from Judah's hight

Through sally-port of minor glens:


Against the background of black dens

Blacker the figure glooms enhanced.

Relieved from anxious fears, the group

In friendliness would have advanced

To greet, but shrank or fell adroop.


Like Hecla ice inveined with marl

And frozen cinders showed his face

Rigid and darkened. Shunning parle

He seated him aloof in place,

Hands clasped about the knees drawn up


As round the cask the binding hoop—

Condensed in self, or like a seer

Unconscious of each object near,

While yet, informed, the nerve may reach

Like wire under wave to furthest beach.


By what brook Cherith had he been,

Watching it shrivel from the scene—

Or voice aerial had heard,

That now he murmured the wild word;

"But, hectored by the impious years,


What god invoke, for leave to unveil

That gulf whither tend these modern fears,

And deeps over which men crowd the sail?["]

Up, as possessed, he rose anon,

And crying to the beach went down:


"Repent! repent in every land

Or hell's hot kingdom is at hand!

Yea, yea,

In pause of the artillery's boom,

While now the armed world holds its own,


The comet peers, the star dips down;

Flicker the lamps in Syria's tomb,

While Anti-Christ and Atheist set

On Anarch the red coronet!"


"Mad John," sighed Rolfe, "dost there betray


The dire Vox Clamans of our day?"

"Why heed him?" Derwent breathed: "alas!

Let him alone, and it will pass.—

What would he now?" Before the bay

Low bowed he there, with hand addressed


To scoop. "Unhappy, hadst thou best?"

Djalea it was; then calling low

Unto a Bethlehemite whose brow

Was wrinkled like the bat's shrunk hide—

"Your salt-song, Beltha: warn and chide."



"Would ye know what bitter drink

They gave to Christ upon the Tree?

Sip the wave that laps the brink

Of Siddim: taste, and God keep ye!

It drains the hills where alum's hid—


Drains the rock-salt's ancient bed;

Hither unto basin fall

The torrents from the steeps of gall—

Here is Hades' water-shed.

Sinner, would ye that your soul


Bitter were and like the pool?

Sip the Sodom waters dead;

But never from thy heart shall haste

The Marah—yea, the after-taste."


He closed.—Arrested as he stooped,


Did Mortmain his pale hand recall?

No; undeterred the wave he scooped,

And tried it—madly tried the gall.