Clarel/Part 4/Canto 26
26. The Prodigal
In adolescence thrilled by hope
Which fain would verify the gleam
And find if destiny concur,
How dwells upon life's horoseope
Youth, always an astrologer, 5
Forecasting happiness the dream!
Slumber interred them; but not all,
For so it chanced that Clarel's cell
Was shared by one who did repel
The poppy. 'Twas a prodigal, 10
Yet pilgrim too in casual way,
And seen within the grots that day,
But only seen, no more than that.
In years he might be Clarel's mate.
Not talkative, he half reclined 15
In revery of dreamful kind;
Or might the fable, the romance
Be tempered by experience?
For ruling under spell serene,
A light precocity is seen. 20
That mobile face, voluptuous air
No Northern origin declare,
But Southern--where the nations bright,
The costumed nations, circled be
In garland round a tideless sea 25
Eternal in its fresh delight.
Nor less he owned the common day;
His avocation naught, in sooth--
A toy of Mammon; but the ray
And fair aureola of youth 30
Deific makes the prosiest clay.
From revery now by Clarel won
He brief his story entered on:
A native of the banks of Rhone
He traveled for a Lyons house 35
Which dealt in bales luxurious;
Detained by chance at Jaffa gray,
Rather than let ripe hours decay,
He'd run o'er, in a freak of fun,
Green Sharon to Jerusalem, 40
And thence, not far, to Bethlehem.
Thy silvery voice, irreverent one!
'Twas musical; and Clarel said:
"Greatly I err, or thou art he
Who singing along the hill-side sped 45
At fall of night."
"And heard you me?
'Twas sentimental, to be sure:
A little Spanish overture,
A Tombez air, which months ago 50
A young Peruvian let flow.
Locked friends we were; he's gone home now."
To Clarel 'twas a novel style
And novel nature; and awhile
Mutely he dwelt upon him here. 55
Earnest to know how the most drear
Solemnity of Judah's glade
Affect might such a mind, he said
Something to purpose; but he shied.
One essay more; whereat he cried: 60
"Amigo! favored lads there are,
Born under such a lucky star,
They weigh not things too curious, see,
Albeit conforming to their time
And usages thereof, and clime: 65
Well, mine's that happy family."
The student faltered--felt annoy:
Absorbed in problems ill-defined,
Am I too curious in my mind;
And, baffled in the vain employ, 70
Foregoing many an easy joy?
That thought he hurried from; and so
Unmindful in perturbed estate
Of that light intimation late,
He said: "On hills of dead Judaoa 75
Wherever one may faring go,
He dreams--Fit place to set the bier
Of Jacob, brought from Egypt's mead:
Here's Atad's threshing-floor."
"Indeed? " 80
Scarce audible was that in tone;
Nor Clarel heard it, but went on:
"'Tis Jephthah's daughter holds the hight;
She, she's the muse here.--But, I pray,
Confess toJudah's mournful sway." 85
He held his peace. "You grant the blight?"
"No Boulevards." "Do other lands
Show equal ravage you've beheld?"
"Oh, yes," and eyed his emerald
In ring. "But here a God commands, 90
A judgment dooms: you that gainsay?"
Up looked he quick, then turned away,
And with a shrug that gave mute sign
That here the theme he would decline.
But Clarel urged. As in despair 95
The other turned--invoked the air:
"Was it in such talk, Don Rovenna,
We dealt in Seville, I and you?
No! chat of love-wile and duenna
And saya-manto in Peru. 100
Ah, good Limeno, dear amigo,
What times were ours, the holidays flew;
Life, life a revel and clear allegro;
But home thou'rt gone; pity, but true!"
At burst so lyrical, yet given 105
Not all without some mock in leaven,
Once more did Clarel puzzled sit;
But rallying in spite of it,
Continued: "Surely now, 'tis clear
That in the aspect of Judaea--" 110
"My friend, it is just naught to me!
Why, why so pertinacious be?
Refrain!" Here, turning light away,
As quitting so the theme: "How gay
Damascus! orchard of a town: 115
Not yet she's heard the tidings though."
"Tidings of long ago:
Isaiah's dark burden, malison:
Of course, to be perpetual fate: 120
Bat, serpent, screech-owl, and all that.
But truth is, grace and pleasure there,
In Abana and Pharpar's streams
(O shady haunts! O sherbert-air!)
So twine the place in odorous dreams, 125
How may she think to mope and moan,
The news not yet being got to town
That she's a ruin! Oh, 'tis pity,
For she, she is earth's senior city!--
Pray, who was he, that man of state 130
Whose footman at Elisha's gate
Loud rapped? The name has slipped. Howe'er,
That Damascene maintained it well:
'We've better streams than Israel,
Yea, fairer waters.' " Weetless here 135
Clarel betrayed half cleric tone:
"Naaman, you mean. Poor leper one,
'Twas Jordan healed him. "
"As you please."
And hereupon the Lyonese-- 140
(Capricious, or inferring late
That he had yielded up his state
To priggish inroad) gave mute sign
'Twere well to end.
"But Palestine, 145
Insisted Clarel, "do you not
Concede some strangeness to her lot?"
"Amigo, how you persecute!
You all but tempt one to refute
These stale megrims. You of the West, 150
What devil has your hearts possessed,
You can't enjoy?--Ah, dear Rovenna,
With talk of donna and duenna,
You came too from that hemisphere,
But freighted with quite other cheer: 155
No pedant, no!" Then, changing free,
Laughed with a light audacity:
"Well, me for one, dameJudah here
Don't much depress: she's not austere--
Nature has lodged her in good zone-- 160
The true wine-zone of Noah: the Cape
Yields no such bounty of the grape.
Hence took King Herod festal tone;
Else why the tavern-cluster gilt
Hang out before that fane he built 165
The second temple?" Catching thus
A buoyant frolic impetus,
He bowled along: "Herewith agrees
The ducat of the Maccabees,
Graved with the vine. Methinks I see 170
The spies from Eshcol, full of glee
Trip back to camp with clusters swung
From jolting pole on shoulders hung:
'Cheer up, 'twill do; it needs befit;
Lo ye, behold the fruit of it!' 175
And, tell me, does not Solomon's harp
(Oh, that it should have taken warp
In end!) confirm the festa? Hear:
'Thy white neck is like ivory;
I feed among thy lilies, dear: 180
Stay me with flagons, comfort me
With apples; thee would I enclose!
Thy twin breasts are as two young roes.' "
Clarel protested, yet as one
Part lamed in candor; and took tone 185
In formal wise: "Nay, pardon me,
But you misdeem it: Solomon's Song
Is allegoric--needs must be."
"Proof, proof, pray, if'tis not too long."
"Why, Saint Bernard " 190
"Who? Sir Bernard?
Never that knight for me left card!"
"No, Saint Bernard, 'twas he of old
The Song's hid import first unrolled--
Confirmed in every after age: 195
The chapter-headings on the page
Of modern Bibles (in that Song)
Attest his rendering, and prolong:
A mystic burden."
"Eh? so too 200
The Bonzes Hafiz' rhyme construe
Which lauds the grape of Shiraz. See,
They cant that in his frolic fire
Some bed-rid fakir would aspire
In foggy symbols. Me, oh me!-- 205
What stuff of Levite and Divine!
Come, look at straight things more in line,
Blue eyes or black, which like you best?
Your Bella Donna, how's she dressed?"
'Twas very plain this sprightly youth 210
Little suspected the grave truth
That he, with whom he thus made free,
A student was, a student late
Of reverend theology:
Nor Clarel was displeased thereat. 215
The other now: "There is no tress
Can thrall one like a Jewess's.
A Hebrew husband, Hebrew-wed,
Is wondrous faithful, it is said;
Which needs be true; for, I suppose, 220
As bees are loyal to the rose,
So men to beauty. Of his girls,
On which did the brown Indian king,
Ahasuerus, shower his pearls?
Why, Esther: Judah wore the ring. 225
And Nero, captain of the world,
His arm about aJewess curled--
Bright spouse, Poppaea. And with good will
Some Christian monarchs share the thrill,
In palace kneeling low before 230
CrownedJudah, like those nobs of yore.
These Hebrew witches! well-a-day
OfJeremiah what reck they?"
Clarel looked down: was he depressed?
The prodigal resumed: "Earth's best, 235
Earth's loveliest portrait, daintiest
Reveals Judaean grace and form:
Urbino's ducal mistress fair--
Ay, Titian's Venus, golden-warm.
Her lineage languishes in air 240
Mysterious as the unfathomed sea:
That grave, deep Hebrew coquetry!
Thereby Bathsheba David won
In bath a purposed bait!--Have done!--
Blushing? The cuticle's but thin! 245
Blushing? yet you my mind would win.
Priests make a goblin of theJew:
Shares he not flesh with me--with you?"
What wind was this? And yet it swayed
Even Clarel's cypress. He delayed 250
All comment, gazing at him there.
Then first he marked the clustering hair
Which on the bright and shapely brow
At middle part grew slantly low:
Rich, tumbled, chestnut hood of curls 255
Like to a Polynesian girl's,
Who, inland eloping with her lover,
The deacon-magistrates recover--
With sermon and black bread reprove
Who fed on berries and on love. 260
So young (thought Clarel) yet so knowing;
With much of dubious at the heart,
Yet winsome in the outward showing;
With whom, with what, hast thou thy part?
In flaw upon the student's dream 265
A wafture of suspicion stirred:
He spake: "The Hebrew, it would seem,
You study much; you have averred
More than most Gentiles well may glean
In voyaging mere from scene to scene 270
Of shifting traffic." Irksomeness
Here vexed the other's light address;
But, ease assuming, gay he said:
"Oh, in my wanderings, why, I've met,
Among all kinds, Hebrews well-read, 275
And some nor dull nor bigot-bred;
Yes, I pick up, nor all forget."
So saying, and as to be rid
Of further prosing, he undid
His vesture, turned him, smoothed his cot: 280
"Late, late; needs sleep, though sleep's a sot."
"A word," cried Clarel: "bear with me:
Just nothing strange at all you see
Touching the Hebrews and their lot?"
Recumbent here: "Why, yes, they share 285
That oddity the Gypsies heir:
About them why not make ado?
The Parsees are an odd tribe too;
Dispersed, no country, and yet hold
By immemorial rites, we're told. 290
Amigo, do not scourge me on;
Put up, put up your monkish thong!
Pray, pardon now; by peep of sun
Take horse I must. Good night, with song:
"Lights of Shushan, if your urn 295
Mellow shed the opal ray,
To delude one--damsels, turn,
Wherefore tarry? why betray?
Drop your garlands and away!
Leave me, phantoms that but feign; 300
Sting me not with inklings vain!
"But, if magic none prevail,
Mocking in untrue romance;
Let your Paradise exhale
Odors; and enlink the dance; 305
And, ye rosy feet, advance
Till ye meet morn's ruddy Hours
Unabashed in Shushan's bowers!"
No more: they slept. A spell came down
And Clarel dreamed, and seemed to stand 310
Betwixt a Shushan and a sand
The Lyonese was lord of one,
The desert did the Tuscan own,
The pale pure monk. A zephyr fanned;
It vanished, and he felt the strain 315
Of clasping arms which would detain
His heart from such ascetic range.
He woke; 'twas day; he was alone,
The Lyonese being up and gone:
Vital he knew organic change, 320
Or felt, at least, that change was working--
A subtle innovator lurking.
He rose, arrayed himself, and won
The roof to take the dawn's fresh air,
And heard a ditty, and looked down. 325
Who singing rode so debonair?
His cell-mate, flexible young blade,
Mounted in rear of cavalcade
Just from the gate, in rythmic way
Switching a light malacca gay: 330
"Rules, who rules?
Fools the wise, makes wise the fools--
Every ruling overrules?
Who the dame that keeps the house,
Provides the diet, and oh, so quiet, 335
Brings all to pass, the slyest mouse?
Tell, tell it me:
Signora Nature, who but she!"