Clarel/Part 3/Canto 27
27. Man and Bird
"Yes, pat it comes in here for me:
He says, that one fine day at sea--
'Twas when he younger was and spry--
Being at mast-head all alone,
While he his business there did ply, 5
Strapping a block where halyards run,
He felt a fanning overhead--
Looked up, and so into the eye
Of a big bird, red-billed and black
In plume. It startled him, he said, 10
It seemed a thing demoniac.
From poise, it went to wheeling round him;
Then, when in daze it well had bound him,
It pounced upon him with a buffet;
He, enraged, essayed to cuff it, 15
But only had one hand, the other
Still holding on the spar. And so,
While yet they shouted from below,
And yet the wings did whirr and smother,
The bird tore at his old wool cap, 20
And chanced upon the brain to tap.
Up went both hands; he lost his stay,
And down he fell--he, and the bird
Maintaining still the airy fray--
And, souse, plumped into sea; and heard, 25
While sinking there, the piercing gird
Of the grim fowl, that bore away
The prize at last."
"And did he drown?"
"Why, there he goes!" and pointed him 30
Where still the mariner wended on:
"'Twas in smooth water; he could swim.
They luffed and flung the rope, and fired
The harpoon at the shark untired
Astern, and dragged him--not the shark, 35
But man--they dragged him 'board the barque;
And down he dropped there with a thump,
Being water-logged with spongy lump
Of quilted patches on the shirt
Of wool, and trowsers. All inert 40
He lay. He says, and true's the word,
That bitterer than the brine he drank
Was that shrill gird the while he sank."
"A curious story, who e'er heard
Of such a fray 'twixt man and bird!"-- 45
"Bird? but he deemed it was the devil,
And that he carried off his soul
In the old cap, nor was made whole
'Till some good vicar did unravel
The snarled illusion in the skein, 50
And he got back his soul again."
"But lost his cap. A curious story--
A bit of Nature's allegory.
And--well, what now? You seem perplexed."
"And so I am.--Your friend there, see, 55
Up on yon peak, he puzzles me.
Wonder where I shall find him next?
Last time 'twas where the corn-cribs by
Bone-cribs, I mean; in church, you know;
The blessed martyrs' holy bones, 60
Hard by the porch as in you go--
Sabaites' bones, the thousand ones
Of slaughtered monks--so faith avers.
Dumb, peering in there through the bars
He stood. Then, in the spiders' room, 65
I saw him there, yes, quite at home
In long-abandoned library old,
Conning a venerable tome,
While dust of ages round him rolled;
Nor heeded he the big fly's buzz, 70
But mid heaped parchment leaves that mold
Sat like the bankrupt man of Uz
Among the ashes, and read and read.
Much learning, has it made him mad?
Kedron well suits him, 'twould appear: 75
Why don't he stay, yes, anchor here,
And do ye pun,
And he, he such an austere one?
(Thought Derwent then.) Well, run your rig-- 80
Hard to be comic and revere;
And once 'twas tittered in mine ear
St. Paul himself was but a prig.
Who's safe from the derision.?--Here
Aloud: "Why, yes; our friend is queer, 85
And yet, as some esteem him, not
Without some wisdom to his lot."
"Wisdom? our Cyril is deemed wise.
In the East here, one who's lost his wits
For saint or sage they canonize: 90
That's pretty good for perquisites.
I'll tell you: Cyril (some do own)
Has gained such prescience as to man
(Through seldom seeing any one),
To him's revealed the mortal span 95
Of any wight he peers upon.
And that's his hobby--as we proved
"Then not in vain we've roved,
Winning the oracle whose caprice 100
Avers we've yet to run our lease."
"Length to that lease! But let's return,
Give over climbing, and adjourn."
"Just as you will."
"But first to show 105
A curious caverned place hard by.
Another crazed monk--start not so--
He's gone, clean vanished from the eye!
Another crazed one, deemed inspired,
Long dwelt in it. He never tired-- 110
Ah, here it is, the vestibule."
They reach an inner grotto cool,
Lighted by fissure up in dome;
Fixed was each thing, each fixture stone:
Stone bed, bench, cross, and altar--stone. 115
"How like you it--Habbibi's home?
You see these writings on the wall?
His craze was this: he heard a call
Ever from heaven: O scribe, write, write!
Write this--that writc to these indite-- 120
To them! Forever it was--write!
Well, write he did, as here you see.
What is it all?"
"Dim, dim to me,"
Said Derwent; "ay, obscurely traced; 125
And much is rubbed off or defaced.
But here now, this is pretty clear:
'I, Self I am the enemy
Of all. From me deliver me,
O Lord. '--Poor man!--But here, dim here: 130
'There is a hell over which mere hell
Profound pit that must be!--What's here
Halffaded: '. . . teen . . six,
The hundred summers run, 135
Except it be in cicatrix
Ah, Nostradamus; prophecy
Is so explicit.--But this, see.
Much blurred again: '. . . testimony, 140
..... grownfat andgray,
The lion down, and--full of honey,
The bears shall rummage--him--in--May.'--
Yes, bears like honey.--Yon gap there
Well lights the grotto; and this air 145
Is dry and sweet; nice citadel
"Or dessert-room. So,
Hast seen enough? then let us go.
Write, write--indite!--what peer you at?" 150
Emerging, Derwent, turning round,
Small text spied which the door-way crowned.
"Ha, new to me; and what is that?"
The Islesman asked; "pray read it o'er."
" 'Ye here who enter Habbi's den, 155
Beware what hence ye take!' " "Amen!
Why didn't he say that before?
But what's to take? all's fixture here."
"Occult, occult," said Derwent, "queer.
Returning now, they made descent, 160
The pilot trilling as they went:
"King Cole sang as he clinked the can,
Sol goes round, and the mill-horse too:
A thousand pound for a fire-proof man!
The devil vows he's the sole true-blue; 165
And the prick-louse sings,
See the humbug of kings--
'Tis I take their measure, ninth part of a man!"
Lightly he sheds it off (mused then
The priest), a man for Daniel's den. 170
In by-place now they join the twain,
Belex, and Og in red Fez bald;
And Derwent, in his easy vein
Ear gives to chat, with wine and gladness,
Pleased to elude the Siddim madness, 175
And, yes, even that in grotto scrawled;
Nor grieving that each pilgrim friend
For time now leave him to unbend.
Yet, intervening even there,
A touch he knew of gliding care: 180
We loiterers whom life can please
(Thought he) could we but find our mates
Ever! but no; before the gates
Of joy, lie some who carp and tease:
Collisions of men's destinies!-- 185
But quick, to nullify that tone
He turned to mark the jovial one
Telling the twain, the martial pair,
Of Cairo and his tarry there;
And how, his humorous soul to please, 190
He visited the dervishes,
The dancing ones: "But what think ye?
The captain-dervish vowed to me
That those same cheeses, whirl-round-rings
He made, were David's--yes, the king's 195
Who danced before the Ark. But, look:
This was the step King David took;"
And cut fantastic pigeon-wings.