Clarel/Part 4/Canto 5
5. Of the Stranger
While Agath was his story telling
(Ere yet the ill thing worked surprise)
The officer with forest eyes
Still kept them dwelling, somber dwelling
On that mild merman gray. His mien 5
In part was that of one who tries
Something outside his own routine
Of memories, all too profuse
In personal pain monotonous.
And yet derived he little here, 10
As seemed, to soothe his mind--austere
With deep impressions uneffaced.
At chance allusion--at the hint
That the dragged tortoise bore the print
Of something mystic and debased, 15
How glowed the comment in his eyes:
No cynic fire sarcastic; nay,
But deeper in the startled sway
Of illustrations to surmise.
Ever on him they turned the look, 20
While yet the hearing not forsook
The salt seer while narration ran.
The desert march resumed, in thought
They dwell, till Rolfe the Druze besought
If he before had met this man-- 25
So distant, though a countryman
By birth. Why, yes--had met him: see,
Drilling some tawny infantry
In shadow of a Memphian wall,
White-robed young conseripts up the Nile; 30
And, afterward, onJaffa beach,
With Turkish captains holding speech
Over some cannon in a pile
Late landed--with the conic ball.
No more? No more the Druze let fall, 35
If more he knew.
Thought Rolfe: Ay me,
Ay me, poor Freedom, can it be
A countryman's a refugee?
What maketh him abroad to roam, 40
Sharing with infidels a home?
Is it the immense charred solitudes
Once farms? and chimney-stacks that reign
War-burnt upon the houseless plain
Of hearthstones without neighborhoods? 45
Is it the wilds whose memories own
More specters than the woods bestrown
With Varus' legions mossy grown?
Is't misrule after strife? and dust
From victor heels? Is it disgust 50
For times when honor's out of date
And serveth but to alienate?
The usurping altar doth he scout--
The Parsee of a sun gone out?
And this, may all this mar his state? 55
His very virtues, in the blench
And violence of fortune's wrench,
Alas, serve but to vitiate?
Strong natures have a strong recoil
Whose shock may wreck them or despoil. 60
Oh, but it yields a thought that smarts,
To note this man. Our New World bold
Had fain improved upon the Old;
But the hemispheres are counterparts.
So inly Rolfe; and did incline 65
In briefer question there to Vine,
Who could but answer him with eyes
Opulent in withheld replies.
And here without a thought to chide-
Feeling the tremor of the ground-- 70
Reluctant touching on the wound
Unhealed yet in our mother's side;
Behooveth it to hint in brief
The rankling thing in Ungar's grief;
For bravest grieve.--That evil day, 75
Black in the New World's calendar--
The dolorous winter ere the war;
True Bridge of Sighs--so yet 'twill be
Esteemed in riper history--
Sad arch between contrasted eras; 80
The span of fate; that evil day
When the cadets from rival zones,
Tradition's generous adherers,
Their country's pick and flower of sons,
Abrupt were called upon to act-- 85
For life or death, nor brook delay--
Touching construction of a pact,
A paper pact, with points abstruse
As theologic ones--profuse
In matter for an honest doubt; 90
And which, in end, a stubborn knot
Some cut but with the sword; that day
With its decision, yet could sway
Ungar, and plunging thoughts excite.
Reading and revery imped his pain, 95
Confirmed, and made it take a flight
Beyond experience and the reign
Of self; till, in a sort, the man
Grew much like that Pamphylian
Who, dying (as the fable goes) 100
In walks of Hades met with those
Which, though he was a sage of worth,
Did such new pregnancies implant,
Hadean lore, he did recant
All science he had brought from earth. 105
Herewith in Ungar, though, ensued
A bias, bitterness--a strain
Much like an Indian's hopeless feud
Under the white's aggressive reign.
Indian's the word; nor it impeach 110
For over-pointedness of speech;
No, let the story rearward run
And its propriety be shown:
Up Chesapeake in days of old,
By winding banks whose curves unfold 115
Cape after cape in bright remove,
Steered the ship Ark with her attendant Dove.
From the non-conformists' zeal or bile
Which urged, inflamed the civil check
Upon the dreaded Popish guile, 120
The New World's fairer flowers and dews
Welcomed the English Catholic:
Like sheltering arms the shores expand
To embrace and take to heart the crews.
Care-worn, sea-worn, and tempest-tanned, 125
Devout they hail that harbor green;
And, mindful of heaven's gracious Queen
And Britain's princess, name it Mary-Land.
It was from one of Calvert's friends
The exile of the verse descends; 130
And gifts, brave gifts, and martial fame
Won under Tilly's great command
That sire of after-sires might claim.
But heedless, in the Indian glade
He wedded with a wigwam maid, 135
Transmitting through his line, far down,
Along with touch in lineaments,
A latent nature, which events
Developed in this distant son,
And overrode the genial part-- 140
An Anglo brain, but Indian heart.
And yet not so but Ungar knew
(In freak, his forest name alone
Retained he now) that instinct true
Which tempered him in years bygone, 145
When, spite the prejudice of kin
And custom, he with friends could be
Outspoken in his heart's belief
That holding slaves was aye a grief--
The system an iniquity 150
In those who plant it and begin;
While for inheritors--alas
Who knows? and let the problem pass.
But now all that was over--gone;
Now was he the self-exiled one. 155
Too steadfast! Wherefore should be lent
The profitless high sentiment?
Renounce conviction in defeat:
Pass over, share the spoiler's seat
And thrive. Behooves thee else turn cheek 160
To fate with wisdom of the meek.
Wilt not? Unblest then with the store
Of heaven, and spurning worldly lore
Astute, eat thou thy cake of pride,
And henceforth live on unallied.-- 165
His passion, that--mused, never said;
And his own pride did him upbraid.
The habit of his mind, and tone
Tenacious touching issues gone,
Expression found, nor all amiss, 170
In thing he'd murmur: it was this:
"Who abideth by the dead
Which ye hung before your Lord?
Steadfast who, when all have fled
Tree and corse abhorred? 175
Who drives off the wolf, the kite--
Bird by day, and beast by night,
And keeps the hill through all?
It is Rizpah: true is one
Unto death; nor then will shun 180
The Seven throttled and undone,
To glut the foes of Saul."
That for the past; and for the surge
Reactionary, which years urge:
"Elating and elate, 185
Do they mount them in their pride?
Let them wait a little, wait,
For the brimming of the flood
Brings the turning of the tide."
His lyric. Yet in heart of hearts 190
Perchance its vanity he knew,
At least suspected. What to do?
Time cares not to avenge your smarts,
But presses on, impatient of review.