Clarel/Part 2/Canto 4
4. Of Mortmain
"Our friend there--he's a little queer,"
To Rolfe said Derwent riding on;
"Beshrew me, there is in his tone
Naught of your new world's chanticleer.
Who's the eccentric? can you say?" 5
"Partly; but 'tis at second hand.
At the Black Jew's I met with one
Who, in response to my demand,
Did in a strange disclosure run
Respecting him."--"Repeat it, pray."-- 10
And Rolfe complied. But here receive
Less the details of narrative
Than what the drift and import may convey.
A Swede he was--illicit son
Of noble lady, after-wed, 15
Who, for a cause over which be thrown
Charity of oblivion dead,--
Bore little love, but rather hate,
Even practiced to ensnare his state.
His father, while not owning, yet 20
In part discharged the natural debt
Of duty; gave him liberal lore
And timely income; but no more.
Thus isolated, what to bind
But the vague bond of human kind? 25
The north he left, to Paris came--
Paris, the nurse of many a flame
Evil and good. This son of earth,
This Psalmanazer, made a hearth
In warm desires and schemes for man: 30
Even he was an Arcadian.
Peace and good will was his acclaim--
If not in words, yet in the aim:
Peace, peace on earth: that note he thrilled,
But scarce in way the cherubs trilled 35
To Bethlehem and the shepherd band.
Yet much his theory could tell;
And he expounded it so well,
Disciples came. He took his stand.
Europe was in a decade dim: 40
Upon the future's trembling rim
The comet hovered. His a league
Of frank debate and close intrigue:
Plot, proselyte, appeal, denouncc
Conspirator, pamphleteer, at once, 45
And prophet. Wear and tear and jar
He met with coffee and cigar:
These kept awake the man and mood
And dream. That uncreated Good
He sought, whose absence is the cause 50
Of creeds and Atheists, mobs and laws.
Precocities of heart outran
The immaturities of brain.
Along with each superior mind
The vain, foolhardy, worthless, blind, 55
WithJudases, are nothing loath
To clasp pledged hands and take the oath
Of aim, the which, if just, demands
Strong hearts, brows deep, and priestly hands.
Experience with her sharper touch 60
Stung Mortmain: Why, if men prove such,
Dote I? love theory overmuch?
Yea, also, whither will advance
yhis Revolution sprung in France
So many years ago? where end? 65
That current takes me. Whither tend?
Come, thou who makest such hot haste
To forge the future--weigh the past.
Such frame he knew. And timed event 70
Cogent a further question lent:
Wouldst meddle with the state? Well, mount
Thy guns; how many men dost count?
Besides, there's more that here belongs:
Be many questionable wrongs: 75
By yet more questionable war,
Prophet of peace, these wouldst thou bar?
The world's not new, nor new thy plea.
Tho' even shouldst thou triumph, see,
Prose overtakes the victor's songs: 80
Victorious right may need redress:
No failure like a harsh success.
Yea, ponder well the historic page:
Of all who, fired with noble rage,
Have warred for right without reprieve, 85
How many spanned the wings immense
Of Satan's muster, or could cheat
His cunning tactics of retreat
And ambuscade? Oh, now dispense!
The world is portioned out, believe: 90
The good have but a patch at best,
The wise their corner; for the rest--
Malice divides with ignorance.
And what is stable? find one boon
That is not lackey to the moon 95
Of fate. The flood ebbs out--the ebb
Floods back; the incessant shuttle shifts
And flies, and weaves and tears the web.
Turn, turn thee to the proof that sifts:
What if the kings in Forty-eight 100
Fled like the gods? even as the gods
Shall do, return they made; and sate
And fortified their strong abodes;
And, to confirm them there in state,
Contrived new slogans, apt to please-- 105
Pan and the tribal unities.
Behind all this still works some power
Unknowable, thou'lt yet adore.
That steers the world, not man. States drive;
The crazy rafts with billows strive.-- 110
Go, go--absolve thee. Join that band
That wash them with the desert sand
For lack of water. In the dust
Of wisdom sit thee down, and rust.
So mused hc solitary pined. 115
Tho' his apostolate had thrown
New prospects ope to Adam's kind,
And fame had trumped him far and free--
Now drop he did--a clod unknown;
Nay, rather, he would not disown 120
Oblivion's volunteer to be;
Like those new-world discoverers bold
Ending in stony convent cold,
Or dying hermits; as if they,
Chastised to Micah's mind austere, 125
Remorseful felt that ampler sway
Their lead had given for old career
Of human nature.
But this man
No cloister sought. He, under ban 130
Of strange repentance and last dearth,
Roved the gray places of the earth.
And what seemed most his heart to wring
Was some unrenderable thing:
'Twas not his bastardy, nor bale 135
Medean in his mother pale,
Nor thwarted aims of high design;
But deeper--deep as nature's mine.
Tho' frequent among kind he sate
Tranquil enough to hold debate, 140
His moods he had, mad fitful ones
Prolonged or brief, outbursts or moans
And at such times would hiss or cry:
"Fair Circe--goddess of the sty!"
More frequent this: "Mock worse than wrong: 145
The Syren's kiss--the Fury's thong!"
Such he. Tho' scarce as such portrayed
In full by Rolfe, yet Derwent said
At close: "There's none so far astray,
Detached, abandoned, as might seem, 150
As to exclude the hope, the dream
Of fair redemption. One fine day
I saw at sea, by bit of deck--
Weedy--adrift from far away--
The dolphin in his gambol light 155
Through showery spray, arch into sight:
He flung a rainbow o'er that wreck."