Clarel/Part 3/Canto 28

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Clarel by Herman Melville
Part 3, Canto 28: Mortmain and the Palm

28. Mortmain and the Palm[edit]

"See him!--How all your threat he braves,
Saba! your ominous architraves
Impending, stir him not a jot.
Scarce he would change with me in lot:
Wiser am I?--Curse on this store 5
Of knowledge! Nay, 'twas cursed of yore.
Knowledge is power: tell that to knaves;
'Tis knavish knowledge: the true lore
Is impotent for earth: 'Thyself

Thou can'st not save; come downfrom cross!' 10
They cast it in His teeth; trim Pelf
Stood by, and jeered, Is gold then dross?--
Cling to His tree, and there find hope:
Me it but makes a misanthrope.
Makes? nay, but 'twould, did not the hate 15
Dissolve in pity of the fate.--
This legend, dream, andfact of life!
The drooping hands, the dancing feet
Which in the endless series meet;
And rumors of No God so rife!" 20

  The Swede, the brotherless--who else?
'Twas he, upon the brink opposed,
To whom the Lesbian was disclosed
In antic: hence those syllables.

  Ere long (at distance from that scene) 25
A voice dropped on him from a screen
Above: "Ho, halt!" It chanced to be
The challenged here no start incurred,
Forewarned of near vicinity
Of Cyril and his freak. He heard, 30
Looked up, and answered, "Well?" "The word!"
"Hope," in derision. "Stand, delay:
That was pass-word for yesterday."

"Despair. " "Advance. "
                     He, going, scanned 35
The testimony of the hand
Gnawed in the dream: "Yea, but 'tis here.
Despair? nay, death; and what's death's cheer?
Death means--the sea-beat gains the shore;
He's home; his watch is called no more. 40
So looks it. Not I tax thee, Death,
With that, which might make Strength a trembler,--
While yet for me it scants no breath--
That, quiet under sleepiest mound,
Thou art a dangerous dissembler; 45

That he whose evil is profound
In multiform of life's disguises,
Whom none dare check, and naught chastises,
And in his license thinks no bound--
For him thou hoardest strange surprises!-- 50
But what--the Tree? O holy Palm,
If'tis a world where hearts wax warm
Oftener through hate than love, and chief
The bland thing be the adder's charm,
And the true thing virtue's ancient grief-- 55
Thee yet it nourishes--even thee!
   "Envoy, whose looks the pang assuage,
Disclose thy heavenly embassage!
That lily-rod which Gabriel bore
To Mary, kneeling her before, 60
Announcing a God, the mother she;
That budded stalk from Paradise--
Like that thou shin'st in thy device:
And sway'st thou over here toward me--
Toward me can such a symbol sway!" 65

   In rounded turn of craggy way,
Across the interposed abyss,
He had encountered it. Submiss,
He dropped upon the under stone,
And soon in such a dream was thrown 70
He felt as floated up in cheer
Of saint borne heavenward from the bier.
Indeed, each wakeful night, and fast
(That feeds and keeps what clay would clutch)
With thrills which he did still outlast, 75
His fibres made so fine in end
That though in trials fate can lend
Firm to withstand, strong to contend;
Sensitive he to a spirit's touch.

    A wind awakened him--a breath. 80
He lay like light upon the heath,
Alive though still. And all came back,

The years outlived, with all their black;
While bright he saw the angel-tree
Across the gulf alluring sway: 85
Come over! be--forever be
As in the trance.--"Wilt not delay?
Yet hear me in appeal to thee:
When the last light shall fade from me,
If, groping round, no hand I meet; 90
Thee I'll recall--invoke thee, Palm:
Comfort me then, thou Paraclete!
The lull late mine beneath thy lee,
Then, then renew, and seal the calm."

  Upon the ledge of hanging stair, 95
And under Vine, invisible there,
With eyes still feeding on the Tree,
Relapsed he lingered as in Lethe's snare.