Herman Melville

1819 - 1891




Part IV.  Bethlehem






Canto xxii

Of Wickedness the Word.


Since, for the charity they knew,

None cared the exile to upbraid

Or further breast—while yet he threw,

In silence that oppressive weighed,


The after-influence of his spell—

The priest in light disclaimer said

To Rolfe apart: "The icicle,

The dagger-icicle draws blood;

But give it sun!" "You mean his mood


Is accident—would melt away

In fortune's favorable ray.

But if 'tis happiness he lacks,

Why, let the gods warm all cold backs

With that good sun. But list!"


In vent

Of thought, abrupt the malcontent:

"What incantation shall make less

The ever-upbubbling wickedness!

Is this fount nature's?"


Under guard

Asked Vine: "Is wickedness the word?"

"The right word? Yes; but scarce the thing

Is there conveyed; for one need know

Wicked has been the tampering


With wickedness the word." "Even so?"

"Ay, ridicule's light sacrilege

Has taken off the honest edge—

Quite turned aside—perverted all

That Saxon term and Scriptural."


"Restored to the incisive wedge,

What means it then, this wickedness?"

Ungar regarded him with look

Of steady search: "And wilt thou brook?

Thee leaves it whole?—This wickedness


(Might it retake true import well)

Means not default, nor vulgar vice,

Nor Adam's lapse in Paradise;

But worse: 'twas this evoked the hell—

Gave in the conscious soul's recess


Credence to Calvin. What's implied

In that deep utterance decried

Which Christians labially confess—

Be born anew?"

"Ah, overstate


Thou dost!" the priest sighed; "but look there!

No jarring theme may violate

Yon tender evening sky! How fair

These olive-orchards: see, the sheep

Mild drift toward the folds of sleep.


The blessed Nature! still her glance

Returns the love she well receives

From hearts that with the stars advance,

Each heart that in the goal believes!"

Ungar, though nettled, as might be,


At these bland substitutes in plea

(By him accounted so) yet sealed

His lips. In fine, all seemed to yield

With one consent a truce to talk.

But Clarel, who, since that one hour


Of unreserve on Saba's tower,

Less relished Derwent's pleasant walk

Of myrtles, hardly might remain

Uninfluenced by Ungar's vein:

If man in truth be what you say,


And such the prospects for the clay,

And outlook of the future—cease!

What's left us but the senses' sway?

Sinner, sin out life's petty lease:

We are not worth the saving. Nay,


For me, if thou speak true—but ah,

Yet, yet there gleams one beckoning star—

So near the horizon, judge I right

That 'tis of heaven?

But wanes the light—


The evening Angelus is rolled:

They rise, and seek the convent's fold.