Herman Melville

1819 - 1891




Part III.  Mar Saba






Canto xxxii

Empty Stirrups.


The gray of dawn. A tremor slight:

The trouble of imperfect light

Anew begins. In floating cloud

Midway suspended down the gorge,


A long mist trails white shreds of shroud

How languorous toward the Dead Sea's verge.

Riders in seat halt by the gate:

Why not set forth? For one they wait

Whose stirrups empty be—the Swede.


Still absent from the frater-hall

Since afternoon and vesper-call,

He, they imagined, had but sought

Some cave in keeping with his thought,

And reappear would with the light


Suddenly as the Gileadite

In Obadiah's way. But—no,

He cometh not when they would go.

Dismounting, they make search in vain;

Till Clarel—minding him again


Of something settled in his air—

A quietude beyond mere calm—

When seen from ledge beside the Palm

Reclined in nook of Bethel stair,

Thitherward led them in a thrill


Of nervous apprehension, till

Startled he stops, with eyes avert

And indicating hand.—

'Tis he

So undisturbed, supine, inert—


The filmed orbs fixed upon the Tree—

Night's dews upon his eyelids be.

To test if breath remain, none tries:

On those thin lips a feather lies—

An eagle's, wafted from the skies.


The vow: and had the genius heard,

Benignant? nor had made delay,

But, more than taking him at word,

Quick wafted where the palm-boughs sway

In St. John's heaven? Some divined


That long had he been undermined

In frame; the brain a tocsin-bell

Overburdensome for citadel

Whose base was shattered. They refrain

From aught but that dumb look that fell


Identifying; feeling pain

That such a heart could beat, and will—

Aspire, yearn, suffer, baffled still,

And end. With monks which round them stood

Concerned, not discomposed in mood,


Interment they provided for—

Heaved a last sigh, nor tarried more.


Nay; one a little lingered there;

'Twas Rolfe. And as the rising sun,

Though viewless yet from Bethel stair,


More lit the mountains, he was won

To invocation, scarce to prayer:


"Holy Morning,

What blessed lore reserves! thou,

Withheld from man, that evermore


Without surprise,

But, rather, with a hurtless scorning

In thy placid eyes,

Thou viewest all events alike?

Oh, tell me, do thy bright beams strike


The healing hills of Gilead now?"


And glanced toward the pale one near

In shadow of the crag's dark brow.—

Did Charity follow that poor bier?

It did; but Bigotry did steer:


Friars buried him without the walls

(Nor in a consecrated bed)

Where vulture unto vulture calls,

And only ill things find a friend:

There let the beak and claw contend,


There the hyena's cub be fed:

Heaven that disclaims, and him beweeps

In annual showers; and the tried spirit sleeps.