Clarel/Part 4/Canto 7
7. At Table
As shipwrecked men adrift, whose boat
In war-time on the houseless seas
Draws nigh to some embattled hull
With pinnacles and traceries--
Grim abbey on the wave afloat; 5
And mark her bulwarks sorrowful
With briny stains, and answering mien
And cenobite dumb discipline,
And homely uniform of crew
Peering from ports where cannon lean, 10
Or pacing in deep galleries far,
Black cloisters of the god of war;
And hear a language which is new
Or foreign: so now with this band
Who, after desert rovings, win 15
The fort monastic, close at hand,
Survey it, meditate it--see,
Through vaultings, the girt Capuchin,
Or list his speech of Italy.
Up to the arch the graybeard train 20
Of Bethlehemites attend, salute,
And in expectancy remain
At stand; their escort ending here,
They wait the recompense and fruit;
'Tis given; and with friendly cheer 25
Parting, they bear a meed beyond
The dry price set down in the bond.
The bonus Derwent did suggest,
Saying: "They're old: of all sweet food
Naught they take in so cheers their blood 30
As ruddy coin; it pads the vest."
Belex abides--true as his steel
To noble pilgrims which such largess deal.
While these now at refection sit,
Rolfe speaks: "Provided for so well, 35
Much at our ease methinks we dwell.
Our merit's guerdon? far from it!
Unworthy, here we welcome win
Where Mary found no room at inn."
"True, true," the priest sighed, staying there 40
The cup of Bethlehem wine in hand;
Then sipped; yet by sad absent air
The flavor seeming to forswear;
Nor less the juice did glad the gland.
The abstemious Ungar noted all, 45
Grave silence keeping. Rolfe let fall:
"Strange! of the sacred places here,
And all through Palestine indeed,
Not one we Protestants hold dear
Enough to tend and care for." 50
The priest, "and why now should that breed
Astonishment? but say your say."
"Why, Shakespeare's house in Stratford town
Ye keep with loving tendance true, 55
Set it apart in reverence due:
A shrine to which the pilgrim's won
Across an ocean's stormy tide:
What zeal, what faith is there implied;
Pure worship localized in grace, 60
Tradition sole providing base."
"Your drift I catch. And yet I think
That they who most and deepest drink
At Shakespeare's fountain, scarce incline
To idolize the local shrine: 65
What's in mere place that can bestead?"
"Nay, 'tis the heart here, not the head.
You note some pilgrims hither bring
The rich or humble offering:
If that's irrational--what then? 70
In kindred way your Lutheran
Will rival it; yes, in sad hour
The Lutheran widow lays her flower
Before the picture of the dead:
Vital affections do not draw 75
Precepts from Reason's arid law."
"Ah, clever! But we won't contend.
As for these Places, my dear friend,
Thus stands the matter--as you know:
Ere Luther yet made his demur, 80
These legend-precincts high and low
In custody already were
Of Greek and Latin, who retain.
So, even did we wish to be
Shrine-keepers here and share the fee-- 85
No sites for Protestants remain."
The compline service they attend;
Then bedward, travel-worn, they wend;
And, like a bland breeze out of heaven,
The gracious boon of sleep is given. 90
But Ungar, islanded in thought
Which not from place a prompting caught,
Alone, upon the terrace stair
Lingered, in adoration there
Of Eastern skies: "Now night enthrones 95
Arcturus and his shining sons;
And lo, Job's chambers of the South:
How might his hand not go to mouth
In kiss adoring ye, bright zones?
Look up: the age, the age forget-- 100
There's something to look up to yet!"