Herman Melville

Harrison Hayford, Alma A. MacDougall, Hershel Parker, and G. Thomas Tanselle (eds), The Writings of Herman Melville: The Northwestern-Newberry Edition, Vol. 12: Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land

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pg 25739. Obsequies

  • 1The camel's skull upon the beach
  • 2No more the sluggish waters reach—
  • 3No more the languid waters lave;
  • 4Not now they wander in and out
  • 5Of those void chambers walled about—
  • 6So dull the calm, so dead the wave.
  • 7Above thick mist how pallid looms,
  • 8While the slurred day doth wanly break,
  • 9Ammon's long ridge beyond the lake.
  • 10      Down to the shrouded margin comes
  • 11Lone Vine—and starts: not at the skull,
  • 12The camel's, for that bides the same
  • 13As when overnight 'twas Mortmain's stool.
  • 14But, nigh it—how that object name?
  • 15Slant on the shore, ground-curls of mist
  • 16Enfold it, as in amethyst
  • 17Subdued, small flames in dead of night
  • 18Lick the dumb back-log ashy white.
  • 19What is it?—paler than the pale
  • 20Pervading vapors, which so veil,
  • 21That some peak-tops are islanded
  • 22Baseless above the dull, dull bed
  • 23Of waters, which not e'en transmit
  • 24One ripple 'gainst the cheek of It.
  • 25      The start which the discoverer gave
  • 26Was physical—scarce shocked the soul,
  • 27Since many a prior revery grave
  • 28Forearmed against alarm's control.
  • 29To him, indeed, each lapse and end
  • 30Meet—in harmonious method blend.
  • 31Lowly he murmured, "Here is balm:
  • 32Repose is snowed upon repose—
  • 33Sleep upon sleep; it is the calm
  • 34And incantation of the close."
  • 35      The others, summoned to the spot,
  • pg 25836Were staggered: Nehemiah? no!
  • 37The innocent and sinless—what!—
  • 38Pale lying like the Assyrian low?
  • 39      The Swede stood by; nor after-taste
  • 40Extinct was of the liquid waste
  • 41Nor influence of that Wormwood Star
  • 42Whereof he spake. All overcast—
  • 43His genial spirits meeting jar—
  • 44Derwent on no unfeeling plea
  • 45Held back. Mortmain, relentless: "See:
  • 46To view death on the bed—at ease—
  • 47A dream, and draped; to minister
  • 48To inheriting kin; to comfort these
  • 49In chamber comfortable;—here
  • 50The elements all that unsay!
  • 51The first man dies. Thus Abel lay."
  • 52      The sad priest, rightly to be read
  • 53Scarce hoping,—pained, dispirited—
  • 54Was dumb. And Mortmain went aside
  • 55In thrill by only Vine espied:
  • 56Alas (thought Vine) thou bitter Swede,
  • 57Into thine armor dost thou bleed?
  • 58      Intent but poised, the Druze looked on:
  • 59"The sheath: the sword?"
  • "Ah, whither gone?"
  • 60Clarel, and bowed him there and kneeled:
  • 61"Whither art gone? thou friendliest mind
  • 62Unfriended—what friend now shalt find?
  • 63Robin or raven, hath God a bird
  • 64To come and strew thee, lone interred,
  • 65With leaves, when here left far behind?"
  • 66      "He's gone," the Jew; "czars, stars must go
  • 67Or change! All's chymestry. Aye so."—
  • Editor’s Note68"Resurget"—faintly Derwent there.
  • 69"In pace"—Vine, nor more would dare.
  • 70      Rolfe in his reaching heart did win
  • 71Prelude remote, yet gathering in:
  • pg 25972"Moist, moist with sobs and balsam shed—
  • 73Warm tears, cold odors from the urn—
  • 74They hearsed in heathen Rome their dead
  • Critical Apparatus75Nor hopeful of the soul's return.
  • 76Embracing them, in marble set,
  • Editor’s Note77The mimic gates of Orcus met—
  • 78The Pluto-bolt, the fatal one
  • 79Wreathed over by the hung festoon.
  • 80How fare we now? But were it clear
  • 81In nature or in lore devout
  • 82That parted souls live on in cheer,
  • 83Gladness would be—shut pathos out.
  • 84His poor thin life: the end? no more?
  • 85The end here by the Dead Sea shore?"
  • 86      He turned him, as awaiting nod
  • 87Or answer from earth, air, or skies;
  • 88But be it ether or the clod,
  • 89The elements yield no replies.
  • 90    Cross-legged on a cindery hight,
  • 91Belex, the fatalist, smoked on.
  • 92Slow whiffs; and then, "It needs be done:
  • 93Come, beach the loins there, Bethlehemite."—
  • 94      Inside a hollow free from stone
  • 95With camel-ribs they scooped a trench;
  • 96And Derwent, rallying from blench
  • 97Of Mortmain's brow, and nothing loth
  • 98Tacit to vindicate the cloth,
  • 99Craved they would bring to him the Book,
  • 100Now ownerless. The same he took,
  • 101And thence had culled brief service meet,
  • Editor’s Note102But closed, reminded of the psalm
  • 103Heard when the salt fog shrunk the palm—
  • 104They wending toward these waters' seat—
  • 105Raised by the saint, as e'en it lent
  • 106A voice to low presentiment:
  • 107Naught better might one here repeat:
  • 108"Though through the valley of the shade
  • 109            I pass, no evil do I fear;
  • pg 260110His candle shineth on my head:
  • 111            Lo, he is with me, even here."
  • 112      That o'er, they kneeled—with foreheads bare
  • 113Bowed as he made the burial prayer.
  • 114Even Margoth bent him; but 'twas so
  • Editor’s Note115As some hard salt at sea will do
  • 116Holding the narrow plank that bears
  • 117The shotted hammock, while brief prayers
  • 118Are by the master read mid war
  • 119Relentless of wild elements—
  • 120The sleet congealing on the spar:
  • 121It was a sulking reverence.
  • 122      The body now the Arabs placed
  • 123Within the grave, and then with haste
  • 124Had covered, but for Rolfe's restraint:
  • 125"The Book!"—The Bible of the saint—
  • 126With that the relics there he graced,
  • 127Yea, put it in the hand: "Since now
  • 128The last long journey thou dost go,
  • 129Why part thee from thy friend and guide!
  • 130And better guide who knoweth? Bide."
  • Editor’s Note131      They closed. And came a rush, a roar—
  • 132Aloof, but growing more and more,
  • 133Nearer and nearer. They invoke
  • 134The long Judaic range, the hight
  • 135Of nearer mountains hid from sight
  • 136By the blind mist. Nor spark nor smoke
  • 137Of that plunged wake their eyes might see;
  • 138But, hoarse in hubbub, horribly,
  • 139With all its retinue around—
  • 140Flints, dust, and showers of splintered stone,
  • 141An avalanche of rock down tore,
  • 142In somerset from each rebound—
  • 143Thud upon thump—down, down and down—
  • 144And landed. Lull. Then shore to shore
  • 145Rolled the deep echo, fold on fold,
  • pg 261146Which, so reverberated, bowled
  • Editor’s Note147And bowled far down the long El Ghor.
  • 148      They turn; and, in that silence sealed,
  • 149What works there from behind the veil?
  • 150A counter object is revealed—
  • 151A thing of heaven, and yet how frail:
  • 152Up in thin mist above the sea
  • 153Humid is formed, and noiselessly,
  • 154The fog-bow: segment of an oval
  • 155Set in a colorless removal
  • 156Against a vertical shaft, or slight
  • 157Slim pencil of an aqueous light.
  • 158Suspended there, the segment hung
  • 159Like to the May-wreath that is swung
  • 160Against the pole. It showed half spent—
  • 161Hovered and trembled, paled away, and—went.
  • end of part 2

pg 262

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
2.39.68–69    Resurget … / In pace] He will rise again—in peace.
Critical Apparatus
2.39.75     Nor hopeful  HM     All hopeless
Editor’s Note
2.39.77    Orcus] Roman god of the underworld, later identified with Greek Pluto (line 78); the word also stands for Hades. Rolfe may be describing an ossuary urn (olla) here.
Editor’s Note
2.39.102    reminded of the psalm] Ps. 23.4; see 2.28.44–47.
Editor’s Note
2.39.115    As some hard salt at sea] See the end of the discussion at 2.30.68.
Editor’s Note
2.39.131    And came a rush] Part 2 closes with the double symbol of the avalanche and its "counter object" the "fog-bow" (lines 150, 154). The 1856–57 journal makes no mention of an avalanche; this would seem an invention extending the entry: "Thunder in mountains of Moab—Lightning.… Rainbow over Dead Sea—heaven, after all, has no malice against it" (p. 83). The reader may decide how much ironical intention the comment bears, and whether the massive violence of the avalanche is held in balance by the slim pencil of light—"how frail" (line 151).
Editor’s Note
2.39.147    El Ghor] The "sunken plain," Arabic name for the great valley reaching from Lebanon to the Gulf of Akaba, described by Stanley, pp. 277, 285.
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