17. Nathan -

Nathan had sprung from worthy stock —
Austere, ascetical, but free,
Which hewed their way from sea-beat rock
Wherever woods and winter be.
The pilgrim-keel in storm and stress
Had erred, and on a wilderness.
But shall the children all be schooled
By hap which their forefathers ruled?
Those primal settlers put in train
New emigrants which inland bore;
From these, too, emigrants again
Westward pressed further; more bred more;
At each remove a goodlier wain,
A heart more large, an ampler shore,
With legacies of farms behind;
Until in years the wagons wind
Through parks and pastures of the sun,
Warm plains as of Esdraelon:
'Tis nature in her best benign.
Wild, wild in symmetry of mould,
With freckles on her tawny gold,
The lily alone looks pantherine —
The libbard-lily. Never broods
The gloom here of grim hemlock woods
Breeding the witchcraft-spell malign;
But groves like isles in Grecian seas,
Those dotting isles, the Sporades.
But who the gracious charm may tell —
Long rollings of the vast serene —
The prairie in her swimming swell
Of undulation.
Such glad scene
Was won by venturers from far
Born under that severer star
The landing patriarchs knew. In fine,
To Illinois — a turf divine
Of promise, how auspicious spread,
Ere yet the cities rose thereon —
From Saco's mountain wilds were led
The sire of Nathan, wife and son;
Life's lot to temper so, and shun
Mountains whose camp withdrawn was set
Above one vale he would forget
After some years their tale had told,
He rested; lay forever stilled
With sachems and mound-builders old.
The son was grown; the farm he tilled;
A stripling, but of manful ways,
Hardy and frugal, oft he filled
The widow's eyes with tears of praise.
An only child, with her he kept
For her sake part, the Christian way,
Though frequent in his bosom crept
Precocious doubt unbid. The sway
He felt of his grave life, and power
Of vast space, from the log-house door
Daily beheld. Three Indian mounds
Against the horizon's level bounds
Dim showed across the prairie green
Like dwarfed and blunted mimic shapes
Of Pyramids at distance seen
From the broad Delta's planted capes
Of vernal grain. In nearer view
With trees he saw them crowned, which drew
From the red sagamores of eld
Entombed within, the vital gum
Which green kept each mausoleum.
Hard by, as chanced, he once beheld
Bones like sea corals; one bleached skull
A vase vined round and beautiful
With flowers; felt, with bated breath
The floral revelry over death.
And other sights his heart had thrilled;
Lambs had he known by thunder killed,
Innocents — and the type of Christ
Betrayed. Had not such things sufficed
To touch the young pure heart with awe,
Memory's mint could move him more.
In prairie twilight, summer's own,
The last cow milked, and he alone
In barn-yard dreamy by the fence,
Contrasted, came a scene immense:
The great White Hills, mount flanked by mount,
The Saco and Ammonoosuc's fount;
Where, in September's equinox
Nature hath put such terror on
That from his mother man would run —
Our mother, Earth: the founded rocks
Unstable prove: the Slide! the Slide!
Again he saw the mountain side
Sliced open; yet again he stood
Under its shadow, on the spot —
Now waste, but once a cultured plot,
Though far from village neighbourhood —
Where, nor by sexton hearsed at even,
Somewhere his uncle slept; no mound,
Since not a trace of him was found,
So whelmed the havoc from the heaven.
This reminiscence of dismay,
These thoughts unhinged him. On a day
Waiting for monthly grist at mill
In settlement some miles away,
It chanced upon the window-sill
A dusty book he spied, whose coat,
Like the Scotch miller's powdered twill,
The mealy owner might denote.
Called off from reading, unaware
The miller e'en had left it there.
A book all but forsaken now
For more advanced ones not so frank,
Nor less in vogue and taking rank;
And yet it never shall outgrow
That infamy it first incurred,
Though — viewed in light which moderns know —
Capricious infamy absurd.
The blunt straightforward Saxon tone,
Workaday language, even his own,
The sturdy thought, not deep but clear,
The hearty unbelief sincere,
Arrested him much like a hand
Clapped on the shoulder. Here he found
Body to doubt, rough standing-ground.
After some pages brief were scanned,
" Wilt loan me this?" he anxious said.
The shrewd Scot turned his square, strong head —
The book he saw, in troubled trim,
Fearing for Nathan, even him
So young, and for the mill, may be,
Should his unspoken heresy
Get bruited so. The lad but part
Might penetrate that senior heart.
Vainly the miller would dissuade;
Pledge gave he, and the loan was made.
Reclined that night by candle dim
He read, then slept, and woke afraid:
The White Hill's slide! the Indian skull!
But this wore off; and unto him
Came acquiescence, which tho' dull
Was hardly peace. An altered earth
Sullen he tilled, in Adam's frame
When thrust from Eden out to dearth
And blest no more, and wise in shame.
The fall! nor aught availed at need
To Nathan, not each filial deed
Done for his mother, to allay
This ill. But tho' the Deist's sway,
Broad as the prairie fire, consumed
Some pansies which before had bloomed
Within his heart; it did but feed
To clear the soil for upstart weed.
Yes, ere long came replacing mood.
The god, expelled from given form,
Went out into the calm and storm
Now, ploughing near the isles of wood
In dream he felt the loneness come,
In dream regarded there the loam
Turned first by him. Such mental food
Need quicken, and in natural way,
Each germ of Pantheistic sway,
Whose influence, nor always drear,
Tenants our maiden hemisphere;
As if, dislodged long since from cells
Of Thracian woodlands, hither stole —
Hither, to renew their old control —
Pan and the pagan oracles.
How frequent when Favonius low
Breathed from the copse which mild did wave
Over his father's sylvan grave,
And stirred the corn, he stayed the hoe,
And leaning, listening, felt a thrill
Which heathenised against the will.

Years sped. But years attain not truth,
Nor length of life avails at all;
But time instead contributes ruth:
His mother — her the garners call:
When sicklemen with sickles go,
The churl of nature reaps her low.
Let now the breasts of Ceres swell —
In shooks, with golden tassels gay,
The Indian corn its trophies ray
About the log-house; is it well
With death's ripe harvest? — To believe,
Belief to win nor more to grieve!
But how? a sect about him stood
In thin and scattered neighbourhood;
Uncanny, and in rupture new;
Nor were all lives of members true
And good. For them who hate and heave
Contempt on rite and creed sublime,
Yet to their own rank fable cleave —
Abject, the latest shame of time;
These quite repelled, for still his mind
Erring, was of no vulgar kind.
Alone, and at Doubt's freezing pole
He wrestled with the pristine forms
Like the first man. By inner storms
Held in solution, so his soul
Ripened for hour of such control
As shapes, concretes. The influence came,
And from a source that well might claim
Surprise.
'Twas in a lake-port new,
A mart for grain, by chance he met
A Jewess who about him threw
Else than Nerea's amorous net
And dubious wile. 'Twas Miriam's race:
A sibyl breathed in Agar's grace —
A sibyl, but a woman too;
He felt her grateful as the rains
To Rephaim and the Rama plains
In drought. Ere won, herself did woo:
" Wilt join my people?" Love is power;
Came the strange plea in yielding hour.
Nay, and turn Hebrew? But why not?
If backward still the inquirer goes
To get behind man's present lot
Of crumbling faith; for rear-wall shows
Far behind Rome and Luther — what?
The crag of Sinai. Here then plant
Thyself secure: 'tis adamant.
Still as she dwelt on Zion's story
He felt the glamour, caught the gleam;
All things but these seemed transitory —
Love, and his love's Jerusalem.
And interest in a mitred race,
With awe which to the fame belongs,
These in receptive heart found place
When Agar chanted David's songs.
'Twas passion. But the Puritan —
Mixed latent in his blood — a strain
How evident, of Hebrew source;
'Twas that, diverted here in force,
Which biased — hardly might do less.
Hereto append, how earnestness,
Which disbelief for first-fruits bore,
Now, in recoil, by natural stress
Constrained to faith — to faith in more
Than prior disbelief had spurned;
As if, when he toward credence turned,
Distance therefrom but gave career
For impetus that shot him sheer
Beyond. Agar rejoiced; nor knew
How such a nature, charged with zeal,
Might yet overpass that limit due
Observed by her. For woe or weal
They wedded, one in heart and creed.
Transferring fields with title-deed,
From rustic life he quite withdrew —
Traded, and throve. Two children came:
Sedate his heart, nor sad the dame.
But years subvert; or he outgrew
(While yet confirmed in all the myth)
The mind infertile of the Jew.
His northern nature, full of pith,
Vigour and enterprise and will,
Having taken thus the Hebrew bent,
Might not abide inactive so
And but the empty forms fulfil:
Needs utilise the mystic glow —
For nervous energies find vent.
The Hebrew seers announce in time
The return of Judah to her prime;
Some Christians deemed it then at hand.
Here was an object: Up and do!
With seed and tillage help renew —
Help reinstate the Holy Land.
Some zealous Jews on alien soil
Who still from Gentile ways recoil,
And loyally maintain the dream,
Salute upon the Paschal day
With Next year in Jerusalem!
Now Nathan turning unto her,
Greeting his wife at morning ray,
Those words breathed on the Passover;
But she, who mutely startled lay,
In the old phrase found import new,
In the blithe tone a bitter cheer
That did the very speech subdue.
She kenned her husband's mind austere,
Had watched his reveries grave; he meant
No flourish mere of sentiment.
Then what to do? or how to stay?
Decry it? that would faith unsay.
Withstand him? but she gently loved.
And so with Agar here it proved,
As oft it may, the hardy will
Overpowered the deep monition still.

Enough; fair fields and household charms
They quit, sell all, and cross the main
With Ruth and a young child in arms.
A tract secured on Sharon's plain,
Some sheds he built, and ground walled in
Defensive; toil severe but vain.
The wandering Arabs, wonted long
(Nor crime they deemed it, crime nor sin)
To scale the desert convents strong —
In sly foray leaped Nathan's fence
And robbed him; and no recompense
Attainable where law was none
Or perjured. Resolute hereon,
Agar, with Ruth and the young child,
He lodged within the stronghold town
Of Zion, and his heart exiled
To abide the worst on Sharon's lea.
Himself and honest servants three
Armed husbandmen became, as erst
His sires in Pequod wilds immersed.
Hittites — foes pestilent to God
His fathers old those Indians deemed:
Nathan the Arabs here esteemed
The same — slaves meriting the rod;
And out he spake it; which bred hate
The more imperilling his state.
With muskets now his servants slept;
Alternate watch and ward they kept
In grounds beleaguered. Not the less
Visits at stated times he made
To them in Zion's walled recess
Agar with sobs of suppliance prayed
That he would fix there: " Ah, for good
Tarry! abide with us, thine own;
Put not these blanks between us; should
Such space be for a shadow thrown?
Quit Sharon, husband; leave to brood;
Serve God by cleaving to thy wife,
Thy children. If come fatal strife —
Which I forebode — nay!" and she flung
Her arms about him there, and clung.
She plead. But tho' his heart could feel,
'Twas mastered by inveterate zeal.
Even the nursling's death ere long
Balked not his purpose tho' it wrung.

But Time the cruel, whose smooth way
Is feline, patient for the prey
That to this twig of being clings;
And Fate, which from her ambush springs
And drags the loiterer soon or late
Unto a sequel unforeseen;
These doomed him and cut short his date;
But first was modified the lien
The husband had on Agar's heart;
And next a prudence slid athwart —
After distrust. But be unsaid
That steep toward which the current led.
Events shall speak.
And now the guide,
Who did in sketch this tale begin,
Parted with Clarel at the inn;
And ere long came the eventide.
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