Clarel/Part 2/Canto 23
23. By the Jordan
On the third morn, a misty one,
Equipped they sally for the wave
Of Jordan. With his escort brown
The Israelite attendance gave
For that one day and night alone. 5
Slung by a cord from saddle-bow,
Is it the mace of Ivanhoe?
Rolfe views, and comments: "Note, I pray,
He said to Derwent on the way,
"Yon knightly hammer. 'Tis with that 10
He stuns, and would exterminate
Your creeds as dragons."
With light fire
Of wit, the priest rejoinder threw;
But turned to look at Nehemiah: 15
The laboring ass with much ado
Of swerving neck would, at the sight
Of bramble-tops, snatch for a bite;
And though it bred him joltings ill--
In patience that did never tire, 20
Her rider let her have her will.
The apostate, ready with his sneer:
"Yes, you had better--'tis a she."
To Rolfe said Derwent: "There, you see:
It is these infidels that jeer 25
His mare, and let Nehemiah pass:
"Who is this Balaam on the ass?"
But none his wonderment dispelled. 30
Now skies distill a vaporous rain;
So looked the sunken slimy plain--
Such semblance of the vacuum shared,
As 'twere the quaking sea-bed bared
By the Caracas. All was still: 35
So much the more their bosoms thrill
With dream of some withdrawn vast surge
Its timed return about to urge
And whelm them.
But a cry they hear: 40
The steed of Mortmain, led in rear,
Broke loose and ran. "Horse too run mad?"
Cried Derwent; "shares his rider's mind--
His rider late? shun both their kind?
Poor Swede! But where was it he said 45
We should rejoin?" "'Tis by Lot's sea,
Remember. And, pray heaven, it be!--
Look, the steed's caught."
They skirt, with ugly bushes crowned; 50
And thereinto, against surprise,
The vigilant Spahi throws his eyes;
To take of distant chance a bond,
Djalea looks forward, and beyond.
At this, some riders feel that awe 55
Which comes of sense of absent law,
And irreligious human kind,
Relapsed, remanded, reassigned
To chaos and brute passions blind.
But is it Jordan, Jordan dear, 60
That doth that evil bound define
Which borders on the barbarous sphere--
Jordan, even Jordan, stream divine?
In Clarel ran such revery here.
Belex his flint adjusts and rights, 65
Sharp speaks unto his Bethlehemites;
Then, signaled by Djalea, through air
Surveys the further ridges bare.
Foreshortened 'gainst a long-sloped hight
Beyond the wave whose wash of foam 70
Beats to the base of Moab home,
Seven furious horsemen fling their flight
Like eagles when they launching rush
To snatch the prey that hies to bush.
Dwarfed so these look, while yet afar 75
Descried. But trusting in their star,
Onward a space the party push;
But halt is called; the Druze rides on,
Bids Belex stand, and goes alone.
Now, for the nonce, those speeders sink 80
Viewless behind the arborous brink.
Thereto the staid one rides--peers in--
Then waves a hand. They gain his side,
Meeting the river's rapid tide
Here sluicing through embowered ravine 85
Such as of yore was Midian's screen
For rites impure. Facing, and near,
Across the waves which intervene,
In shade the robbers reappear:
Swart, sinuous men on silvery steeds-- 90
Abreast, save where the copse impedes.
At halt, and mute, and in the van
Confronting them, with lengthy gun
Athwart the knee, and hand thereon,
Djalea waits. The mare and man 95
Show like a stone equestrian
Set up for homage. Over there
'Twas hard for mounted men to move
Among the thickets interwove,
Which dipped the stream and made a snare. 100
But, undeterred, the riders press
This way and that among the branches,
Picking them lanes through each recess,
Till backward on their settling haunches
The steeds withstand the slippery slope, 105
While yet their outflung fore-feet grope;
Then, like sword-push that ends in lunge,
The slide becomes a weltering plunge:
The willows drip, the banks resound;
They halloo, and with spray are crowned. 110
The torrent, swelled by Lebanon rains,
The spirited horses bravely stem,
Snorting, half-blinded by their manes,
Nor let the current master them.
As the rope-dancer on the hair 115
Poises the long slim pole in air;
Twirling their slender spears in pride,
Each horseman in imperiled seat
Blends skill and grace with courage meet.
Soon as they win the hither side, 120
Like quicksilver to beach they glide,
Dismounting, and essay the steep,
The horses led by slackened rein:
Slippery foothold ill they keep.
To help a grim one of the band 125
Good Nehemiah with mickle strain
Down reaches a decrepit hand:
The sheik ignores it--bandit dun,
Foremost in stride as first in rank--
Rejects it, and the knoll is won. 130
Challengingly he stares around,
Then stakes his spear upon the bank
As one reclaiming rightful ground.
Like otters when to land they go,
Riders and steeds how sleekly show. 135
The first inquiring look they trace
Is gun by gun, as face by face:
Salute they yield, for arms they view
Inspire respect sincere and true.
Meantime, while in their bearing shows 140
The thought which still their life attends,
And habit of encountering foes--
The thought that strangers scarce are friends--
What think the horses? Zar must needs
Be sociable; the robber steeds 145
She whinnies to; even fain would sway
Neck across neck in lovesome way.
Great Solomon, of rakish strain,
Trumpets--would be DonJohn again.
The sheik, without a moment's doubt, 150
Djalea for captain singles out;
And, after parley brief, would fain
Handle that pistol of the guide,
The new revolver at his side.
The Druze assents, nor shows surprise. 155
Barrel, cap, screw, the Arab tries;
And ah, the contrast needs he own:
Alack, for his poor lance and gun,
Though heirlooms both: the piece in stock
Half honeycombed, with cumbrous lock; 160
The spear like some crusader's pole
Dropped long ago when death-damps stole
Over the knight in Richard's host,
Then left to warp by Acre lost:
Dry rib of lance. But turning now 165
Upon his sweetheart, he was cheered:
Her eye he met, the violet-glow,
Peaked ear, the mane's redundant flow;
It heartened him, and round he veered;
Elate he shot a brigand glare: 170
I, Ishmael, have my desert mare!
Elicited by contact's touch,
Tyrannous spleen vexed Belex much
Misliking in poor tribe to mark
Freedom unawed and nature's spark. 175
With tutoring glance, a tempered fire,
The Druze repressed the illiberal ire.
The silvered saint came gently near
Meekly intrepid, tract in hand,
And reached it with a heart sincere 180
Unto the sheik, whose fingers spanned
The shrewd revolver, loath to let
That coveted bauble go as yet.
"Nay," breathed the Druze, and gently here:
"The print he likes not; let him be; 185
Pray now, he deems it sorcery."
They drew him back. In rufflement
The sheik threw round a questioning eye;
Djalea explained, and drew more nigh,
Recalling him to old content; 190
Regained the weapon; and, from stores
Kept for such need, wary he pours
A dole of powder.
So they part--
RecrossingJordan, horse and gun, 195
With warrior cry and brandished dart
Where, in the years whose goal is won
The halcyon Teacher waded in withJohn.