Herman Melville

1819 - 1891




Part IV.  Bethlehem






Canto xxxiv

Via Crucis.


Some leading thoroughfares of man

In wood-path, track, or trail began;

Though threading heart of proudest town,

They follow in controlling grade


A hint or dictate, nature's own,

By man, as by the brute, obeyed.


Within Jerusalem a lane,

Narrow, nor less an artery main

(Though little knoweth it of din),


In part suggests such origin.

The restoration or repair,

Successive through long ages there,

Of city upon city tumbled,

Might scarce divert that thoroughfare,


Whose hill abideth yet unhumbled

Above the valley-side it meets.

Pronounce its name, this natural street's:

The Via Crucis—even the way

Tradition claims to be the one


Trod on that Friday far away

By Him our pure exemplar shown.


'Tis Whitsun-tide. From paths without,

Through Stephen's gate—by many a vein

Convergent brought within this lane,


Ere sun-down shut the loiterer out—

As 'twere a frieze, behold the train!

Bowed water-carriers; Jews with staves,

Infirm gray monks; over-loaded slaves;

Turk soldiers—young, with home-sick eyes;


A Bey, bereaved through luxuries;

Strangers and exiles; Moslem dames

Long-veiled in monumental white,

Dumb from the mounds which memory claims;

A half-starved vagrant Edomite;


Sore-footed Arab girls, which toil

Depressed under heap oŁ garden-spoil;

The patient ass with panniered urn;

Sour camels humped by heaven and man,

Whose languid necks through habit turn


For ease—for ease they hardly gain.

In varied forms of fate they wend—

Or man or animal, 'tis one:

Cross-bearers all, alike they tend

And follow, slowly follow on.



But, lagging after, who is he

Called early every hope to test,

And now, at close of rarer quest,

Finds so much more the heavier tree?

From slopes whence even Echo's gone,


Wending, he murmurs in low tone:

"They wire the world—far under sea

They talk; but never comes to me

A message from beneath the stone."


Dusked Olivet he leaves behind,


And, taking now a slender wynd,

Vanishes in the obscurer town.