Clarel/Part 4/Canto 21

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Clarel by Herman Melville
Part 4, Canto 21: Ungar and Rolfe

21. Ungar and Rolfe[edit]

"Such earnestness! such wear and tear,
And man but a thin gossamer!"
So here the priest aside; then turned,
And, starting: "List! the vesper-bell?
Nay, nay--the hour is passed. But, oh,  5
He must have supped, Don Hannibal,
Ere now. Come, friends, and shall we go?
This hot discussion, let it stand
And cool; to-morrow we'll remand."
  "Not yet, I pray," said Rolfe; "a word;"  10
And turned toward Ungar; "be adjured,
And tell us if for earth may be
In ripening arts, no guarantee
Of happy sequel."
                "Arts are tools;  15
But tools, they say are to the strong:
Is Satan weak? weak is the Wrong?
No blessed augury overrules:
Your arts advance in faith's decay:
You are but drilling the new Hun  20
Whose growl even now can some dismay;
Vindictive in his heart of hearts,
He schools him in your mines and marts--
A skilled destroyer."

                   "But, need own  25
That portent does in no degree
Westward impend, across the sea."
   "Over there? And do ye not forebode?
Against pretenses void or weak
The impieties of'Progress' speak.  30
What say these, in effect, to God?
'How profits it? And who art Thou
That we should serve Thee? Of Thy ways
No knowledge we desire; new ways
We have found out, and better. Go--  35
Depart from us; we do erase
Thy sinecure: behold, the sun

Stands still no more in Ajalon:
Depart from us!'--And if He do?
(And that He may, the Scripture says)  40
Is aught betwixt ye and the hells?
For He, nor in irreverent view,
'Tis He distills that savor true
Which keeps good essences from taint;
Where He is not, corruption dwells,  45
And man and chaos are without restraint."
  "Oh, oh, you do but generalize
In void abstractions."
                   "Hypothesize:
If be a people which began  50
Without impediment, or let
From any ruling which fore-ran;
Even striving all things to forget
But this--the excellence of man
Left to himself, his natural bent,  55
His own devices and intent;
And if, in satire of the heaven,
A world, a new world have been given
For stage whereon to deploy the event;
If such a people be--well, well,  60
One hears the kettle-drums of hell!
Exemplary act awaits its place
In drama of the human race."
  "Is such act certain?" Rolfe here ran
"Not much is certain."  65
                "God is--man.
The human nature, the divine--
Have both been proved by many a sign.
'Tis no astrologer and star.
The world has now so old become,  70
Historic memory goes so far
Backward through long defiles of doom;
Whoso consults it honestly
That mind grows prescient in degree
For man, like God abides the same  75
Always, through ail variety

Of woven garments to the frame."
  "Yes, God is God, and men are men,
Forever and for aye. What then?
There's Circumstance there's Time; and these  80
Are charged with store of latencies
Still working in to modify.
For mystic text that you recall,
Dilate upon, and e'en apply--
(Although I seek not to decry)  85
Theology's scarce practical.
But leave this: the New World's the theme.
Here, to oppose your dark extreme,
(Since an old friend is good at need)
To an old thought I'll fly. Pray, heed:  90
Those waste-weirs which the New World yields
To inland freshets--the free vents
Supplied to turbid elements;
The vast reserves--the untried fields;
These long shall keep off and delay  95
The class-war, rich-and-poor-man fray
Of history. From that alone
Can serious trouble spring. Even that
Itself, this good result may own--
The first firm founding of the state."  100
  Here ending, with a watchful air
Inquisitive, Rolfe waited him.

And Ungar:
           "True heart do ye bear
In this discussion? or but trim  105
To draw my monomania out,
For monomania, past doubt,
Some of ye deem it. Yet I'll on.
Yours seems a reasonable tone;
But in the New World things make haste:  110
Not only men, the state lives fast--
Fast breeds the pregnant eggs and shells,
The slumberous combustibles
Sure to explode. 'Twill come, 'twill come!
One demagogue can trouble much:  115

How of a hundred thousand such?
And universal suffrage lent
To back them with brute element
Overwhelming? What shall bind these seas
Of rival sharp communities  120
Unchristianized? Yea, but 'twill come!"
"What come?"
"Your Thirty Years (of) War."
   "Should fortune's favorable star
Avert it?"  125
         "Fortune? nay, 'tis doom."
"Then what comes after? spasms but tend
Ever, at last, to quiet."
                "Know,
Whatever happen in the end,  130
Be sure 'twill yield to one and all
New confirmation of the fall
Of Adam. Sequel may ensue,
Indeed, whose germs one now may view:
Myriads playing pygmy parts--  135
Debased into equality:
In glut of all material arts
A civic barbarism may be:
Man disennobled--brutalized
By popular science--Atheized  140
Into a smatterer "
"Oh, oh!"
  "Yet knowing all self need to know
In self's base little fallacy;
Dead level of rank commonplace:  145
An Anglo-Saxon China, see,
May on your vast plains shame the race
In the Dark Ages of Democracy."

  America!
           In stilled estate,  150
On him, half-brother and co-mate--
In silence, and with vision dim
Rolfe, Vine, and Clarel gazed on him;

They gazed, nor one of them found heart
To upbraid the crotchet of his smart,  155
Bethinking them whence sole it came,
Though birthright he renounced in hope,
Their sanguine country's wonted claim.
Nor dull they were in honest tone
To some misgivings of their own:  160
They felt how far beyond the scope
Of elder Europe's saddest thought
Might be the New World's sudden brought
In youth to share old age's pains--
To feel the arrest of hope's advance,  165
And squandered last inheritance;
And cry--"To Terminus build fanes!
Columbus ended earth's romance:
No New World to mankind remains!"