Clarel/Part 2/Canto 20
20. Under the Mountain
From Ur of the Chaldees roved the man--
Priest, shepherd, prince, and pioneer--
Swart Bedouin in time's dusky van;
Even he which first, with mind austere,
Arrived in solitary tone 5
To think of God as One--alone;
The first which brake with hearth and home
For conseience' sake; whom piety ruled,
Prosperity blest, longevity schooled,
And time in fullness brought to Mamre's tomb 10
Arch founder of the solid base of Christendom.
Even this. For why disown the debt
When vouchers be? Yet, yet and yet
Our saving salt of grace is due
All to the East--nor least the Jew. 15
Perverse, if stigma then survive,
Elsewhere let such in satire thrive--
Not here. Quite other end is won
In picturing Margoth, fallen son
Of Judah. Him may Gabriel mend. 20
Little for love, or to unbend,
But swayed by tidings, hard to sift,
Of robbers by the river-drift
In force recruited; they suspend
Their going hence to Jordan's trees. 25
Released from travel, in good hour
Nehemiah dozed within the tower.
Uplands they range, and woo the breeze
Where crumbled aqueducts and mounds
Override long slopes and terraces, 30
And shattered pottery abounds--
Or such would seem, yet may but be
The shards of tile-like brick dispersed
Binding the wall or bulwark erst,
Such as in Kent still serve that end 35
In Richborough castle by the sea--
A Roman hold. What breadth of doom
As of the worlds in strata penned--
So cosmic seems the wreck of Rome.
Not wholly proof to natural sway 40
Of serious hearts and manners mild,
Uncouthly Margoth shared the way.
He controverted all the wild,
And in especial, Sodom's strand
Of marl and clinker: "Sirs, heed me: 45
This total tract," and Esau's hand
He waved; "the plain--the vale--Lot's sea--
It needs we scientists remand
Back from old theologic myth
To geologic hammers. Pray, 50
Let me but give ye here the pith:
As the Phlegraean fields no more
Befool men as the spookish shore
Where Jove felled giants, but are known--
The Solfatara and each cone 55
Volcanic--to be but on a par
With all things natural; even so
Siddim shall likewise be set far
Part overhearing this, 60
Derwent, in rear with Rolfe: "Old clo'!
We've heard all that, and long ago:
Conceit of vacant emphasis:
Well, well!"--Here archly, Rolfe: "But own,
How graceful your concession--won 65
A score or two of years gone by.
Nor less therefrom at need ye'll fly,
Allow. Scarce easy 'tis to hit
Each slippery turn of cleric wit."
Derwent but laughed; then said--"But he: 70
Intelligence veneers his mien
Though rude: unprofitably keen:
Sterile, and with sterility
Self-satisfied." "But this is odd!
Not often do we hear you rail: 75
The gown it seems does yet avail,
Since from the sleeve you draw the rod.
But look, they lounge."
Yes, all recline,
And on the site where havoc clove 80
The last late palm of royal line,
Sad Montezuma of the grove.
The mountain of the Imp they see
Scowl at the freedom which they take
Relaxed beneath his very lee. 85
The bread of wisdom here to break,
Margoth holds forth: the gossip tells
Of things the prophets left unsaid--
With master-key unlocks the spells
And mysteries of the world unmade; 90
Then mentions Salem: "Stale is she!
Lay flat the walls, let in the air,
That folk no more may sicken there!
Wake up the dead; and let there be
Rails, wires, from Olivet to the sea, 95
With station in Gethsemane."
The priest here flushed. Rolfe rose: and, "How--
You go too far!" "A long Dutch mile
Behind the genius of our time."
"Explain that, pray." "And don't you know? 100
Mambrino's helmet is sublime--
The barber's basin may be vile:
Whether this basin is that helm
To vast debate has given rise--
Question profound for blinking eyes; 105
But common sense throughout her realm
Has settled it."
There, like vain wight
His fine thing said, bidding friends good night,
He, to explore a rift they see, 110
Parted, bequeathing, as might be,
A glance which said--Again ye'll pine
Left to yourselves here in decline,
Missing my brave vitality!