18. The Syrian Monk -

At early hour with Rolfe and Vine
Clarel ascends a minor height;
They overtake in lone recline
A strange wayfarer of the night
Who, 'twixt the small hour and the gray,
With cruse and scrip replenished late
In Jericho at the wattled gate,
Had started on the upland way:
A young strange man of aspect thin
From vigils which in fast begin.
Though, pinned together with the thorn,
His robe was ragged all and worn —
Pure did he show as mountain-leaf
By brook, or coral washed in reef.
Contrasting with the bleached head-dress
His skin revealed such swarthiness,
And in the contour clear and grace,
So all unworldly was the face,
He looked a later Baptist John.
They start; surprise perforce they own:
Much like Da Gama's men, may be,
When sudden on their prow at sea
Lit the strange bird from shores unknown.
Although at first from words he shrunk,
He was, they knew, a Syrian monk,
They so prevailed with him and pressed,
He longer lingered at request.
They won him over in the end
To tell his story and unbend.

He told how that for forty days,
Not yet elapsed, he dwelt in ways
Of yonder Quarantanian height,
A true recluse, an anchorite;
And only came at whiles below,
And ever in the calm of night,
To beg for scraps in Jericho.
'Twas sin, he said, that drove him out.
Into the desert — sin of doubt.
Even he it was upon the mount
By chance perceived, untold, by Vine,
From Achor's brink. He gave account
Of much besides; his lonely mine
Of deep illusion; how the night,
The first, was spent upon the height,
And way he climbed:
" Up cliff, up crag —
Cleft crag and cliff which still retard,
Goat-like I scrambled where stones lag
Poised on the brinks by thunder marred.
A ledge I reached which midway hung
Where a hut-oratory clung —
Rude stones massed up, with cave-like door,
Eremite work of days of yore.
White bones here lay, remains of feast
Dragged in by bird of prey or beast.
Hence gazed I on the wilds beneath,
Dengadda and the coasts of death.
But not a tremor felt I here:
It was upon the summit fear
First fell; there first I saw this world;
And scarce man's place it seemed to be;
The mazed Gehennas so were curled
As worm-tracks under bark of tree.
I ween not if to ye 'tis known —
Since few do know the crag aright,
Years left unvisited and lone —
That a wrecked chapel marks the site
Where tempter and the tempted stood
Of old. I sat me down to brood
Within that ruin; and — my heart
Unwaveringly to set apart
In meditation upon Him
Who here endured the evil whim
Of Satan — steadfast, steadfast down
Mine eyes fixed on a flinty stone
Which lay there at my feet. But thought
Would wander. Then the stone I caught,
Convulsed it in my hand till blood
Oozed from these nails. Then came and stood
The Saviour there — the Imp and He:
Fair showed the Fiend — foul enemy;
But, ah, the Other pale and dim:
I saw but as the shade of Him.
That passed. Again I was alone —
Alone — ah, no — not long alone:
As glides into dead grass the snake
Lean rustling from the bedded brake,
A spirit entered me. 'Twas he,
The tempter, in return; but me
He tempted now. He mocked: " Why strife?
Dost hunger for the bread of life?
Thou lackest faith: faith would be fed;
True faith could turn that stone to bread,
That stone thou hold'st. " — Mute then my face
I lifted to the starry space;
But the great heaven it burned so bright,
It cowed me, and back fell my sight.
Then he: " Is yon the Father's home?
And thou His child cast out to night?
'Tis bravely lighted, yonder dome. " —
" Part speak'st thou true: yea, He is there. " —
" Yea, yea, and He is everywhere —
Now and for aye, Evil and He. " —
" Is there no good? " — " Ill to fulfil
Needful is good: good salts the ill. " —
" He 's just " — " Goodness is justice. See,
Through all the pirate-spider's snare
Of silken arcs of gossamer,
'Tis delicate geometry:
Adorest the artificer? " —
No answer knew I, save this way:
" Faith bideth. " — " Noon, and wait for day?
The sand 's half run! Eternal, He:
But aye with a futurity
Which not exceeds His past. Agree,
Full time has lapsed. What ages hoar,
What period fix, when faith no more,
If unfulfilled, shall fool? " — I sat;
Sore quivered I to answer that,
Yet answered naught; but lowly said —
" And death? " — " Why beat the bush in thee?
It is the cunningest mystery:
Alive thou know'st not death; and, dead,
Death thou 'lt not know. " — " The grave will test;
But He, He is , though doubt attend;
Peace will He give ere come the end. " —
" Ha, thou at peace? Nay, peace were best —
Could the unselfish yearner rest!
At peace to be, here, here on earth,
Where peace, heart-peace, how few may claim,
And each pure nature pines in dearth —
Fie, fie, thy soul might well take shame. " —
There sunk my heart — he spake so true
In that. O God (I prayed), come through
The cloud; hard task Thou settest man
To know Thee; take me back again
To nothing, or make clear my view! —
Then stole the whisper intermitting;
Like tenon into mortice fitting
It slipped into the frame of me:
" Content thee: in conclusion caught
Thou 'lt find how thought's extremes agree —
The forethought clinched by afterthought,
The firstling by finality. " —
There close fell, and therewith the stone
Dropped from my hand — His will be done!"
And skyward patient he appealed,
Raising his eyes, and so revealed
First to the pilgrims' waiting view
Their virginal violet of hue.

Rolfe spake: " Surely, not all we 've heard:
Peace — solace — was in end conferred?" —
His head but fell. He rose in haste,
The rough hair-girdle tighter drew
About the hollow of the waist,
Departing with a mild adieu.

They sat in silence. Rolfe at last:
" And this but ecstasy of fast?
Construe then Jonah in despair." —
The student turned, awaiting Vine;
Who answered nothing, plaiting there
A weed from neighbouring ground uptorn,
Plant common enough in Palestine,
And by the peasants named Christ's Thorn.
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