18. The Hillside -

Pertaining unto nations three —
Or, rather, each unto its clan —
Greek, Latin, and Armenian,
About the fane three convents be.
Confederate on the mountain fair,
Blunt buttressed huge with masonry,
They mass an Ehrenbreitstein there.
In these, and in the Empress' fane
Enough they gather to detain
Or occupy till afternoon;
When some of them the ridge went down
To view that legendary grot
Whose milky chalkiness of vest
Derived is (so the hinds allot)
From droppings of Madonna's breast:
A fairy tale: yet, grant it, due
To that creative love alone
Wherefrom the faun and cherub grew,
With genii good and Oberon.

Returning, part way up the height,
Ungar they met; and Vine in sight.
Here all repose them.
" Look away,"
Cried Derwent, westward pointing; " see,
How glorified yon vapours be!
It is the dying of the day;
A hopeful death-bed: yes, need own
There is a morrow for the sun."
So, mild they sat in pleased delay.
Vine turned — what seemed a random word
Shyly let fall; and they were stirred
Thereby to broach anew the theme —
How wrought the sites of Bethlehem
On Western natures. Here some speech
Was had; and then: " For me," Rolfe said,
" From Bethlehem here my musings reach
Yes — frankly — to Tahiti's beach."
" Tahiti?" Derwent; " you have sped
" Ay, truant humour. But to me
That vine-wreathed urn of Ver, in sea
Of halcyons, where no tides do flow
Or ebb, but waves bide peacefully
At brim, by beach where palm-trees grow
That sheltered Omai's olive race —
Tahiti should have been the place
For Christ in advent."
" Deem ye so?
Or on the topic's budding bough
But lights your fancy's robin?"
" Nay,"
Said Ungar, " err one if he say
The God's design was, part, to broach
Rebuke of man's factitious life;
So, for His first point of approach,
Came thereunto where that was rife,
The land of Pharisees and scorn —
Judaea, with customs hard as horn."
This, chief, to Rolfe and Derwent twain.
But Derwent, if no grudge he knew,
Still felt some twinges of the pain
(Vibrations of the residue)
That morning in the dale incurred;
Wherefore, at present he abstained,
When Ungar spake, from any word
Receptive. Rolfe reply maintained;
And much here followed, though of kind
Scarce welcome to the priest. Resigned
He heard; till, at a hint, the Cave
He named:
" If on the first review
Its shrines seemed each a gilded grave;
Yet, reconsidered, they renew
The spell of the transmitted story —
The grace, the innocence, the glory:
Shepherds, the Manger, and the Child :
What wonder that it has beguiled
So many generations! Ah,
Though much we knew in desert late,
Beneath no kind auspicious star,
Of lifted minds in poised debate —
'Twas of the brain. Consult the heart!
Spouse to the brain — can coax or thwart:
Does she renounce the trust divine?
Hide it she may, but scarce resign;
Like to a casket buried deep
Which, in a fine and fibrous throng,
The rootlets of the forest keep —
'Tis tangled in her meshes strong."
" Yes, yes," cried Rolfe; " that tone delights;
But oh, these legends, relics, sites!
Of yore, you know, Greeks showed the place
Where Argo landed, and the stone
That served to anchor Argo; yes,
And Agamemnon's sceptre, throne;
Mars' spear; and so on. More to please,
Where the goddess suckled Hercules —
Priests showed that spot, a sacred one."
" Well then, Madonna 's but a dream,
The Manger and the Crib. So deem;
So be it; but undo it! Nay,
Little avails what sages say:
Tell Romeo that Juliet's eyes
Are chemical; e'en analyse
The iris; show 'tis albumen —
Gluten — fish-jelly mere. What then?
To Romeo it is still love's sky:
He loves: enough! Though Faith no doubt
Seem insubstantial as a sigh,
Never ween that 'tis a waterspout
Dissolving, dropping into dew
At pistol-shot. Besides, review
That comprehensive Christian scheme:
It catches man at each extreme:
Simple — august; strange as a dream,
Yet practical as plodding life:
Not use and sentiment at strife."
They hearken: none aver dissent,
Nor one confirms him; while his look
Unwitting an expression took,
Scarce insincere, yet so it lent
Provocative to Ungar's heart;
Who, bridling the embittered part,
Thus spake: " This yieldeth no content:
Your implication lacketh stay:
There is a callousness in clay.
Christ's pastoral parables divine,
Breathing the sweet breath of sweet kine,
As wholesome too; how many feel?
Feel! rather put it — comprehend?
Not unto all does nature lend
The gift; at height such love's appeal
Is hard to know, as in her deep
Is hate; a prior love must steep
The spirit; head nor heart have marge
Commensurate in man at large."
" Indulge me," Derwent; " Grant it so
As you present it; 'tis most strange
How Christ could work His powerful change:
The world turned Christian long ago."
" The world but joined the Creed Divine
With prosperous days and Constantine;
The world turned Christian, need confess,
But the world remained the world, no less:
The world turned Christian: where 's the odds?
Hearts change not in the change of gods.
Despite professions, outward shows —
So far as working practice goes,
More minds with shrewd Voltaire have part
Than now own Jesus in the heart."
" Not rashly judge," said Derwent grave;
" Prudence will here decision waive."
" No: shift the test. How Buddha pined!
Pierced with the sense of all we bear,
Not only ills by fate assigned,
But misrule of our selfish mind,
Fain would the tender sage repair.
Well, Asia owns him. But the lives :
Buddha but in a name survives —
A name, a rite. Confucius, too:
Does China take his honest hue?
Some forms they keep, some forms of his;
But well we know them, the Chinese.
Ah, Moses, thy deterring dart! —
Ethereal visitants of earth,
Foiled benefactors, proves your worth
But sundry texts, disowned in mart,
Light scratched, not graved on man's hard heart?
'Tis penalty makes sinners start."
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