A Hermit of Carmel

Hermit . Thou who wast tempted in the wilderness,
Guard me this night, for there are snares in sleep
That baffle watching. O poisoned, bitter life
Of doubt and longing! Were death possible,
Who would not choose it? But that dim estate
Might plunge my witless ghost in grosser matter
And in still closer meshes choke my life.
Yet thus to live is grievous agony,
When sleep and thirst, hunger and weariness,
And the sharp goads of thought-awakened lust
Torture the flesh, and inward doubt of all
Embitters with its lurking mockery
Virtue's sad victories. This wilderness
Whither I fly from the approach of men
Keeps not the devil out. The treacherous glens
Are full of imps, and ghosts in moonlit vesture
Startle the watches of the lidless night.
The giant forest, in my youth so fair,
Is now a den of demons; the hoarse sea
Is foul with monsters hungry for my soul;
The dark and pregnant soil, once innocent
Mother of flowers, reeks with venomous worms,
And sore temptation is in all the world.
But hist! A sound, as if of clanking hoofs.
Saint Anthony protect me from the fiend,
Whether he come in guise of horned beast
Or of pernicious man! If I must die
Be it upon this hallowed ground, O Lord!
[ Hides in the hut .
Enter a young Knight .

Knight [ reining in his horse ].
Rest, Albus, rest. — Doth the sun sink in glory
Because he sinks to rise? —
Breathe here a space; here bends the promontory,
There Acra's haven lies.
Those specks are galleys waiting for the gale
To make for Christian shores.
To-morrow they will fly with bellying sail
And plash of swinging oars,
Bearing us both to where the freeman tills
The plot where he was born,
And belfry answers belfry from the hills
Above the fields of corn.
Thence one less sea to traverse ere we come
Where all our hopes abide,
One truant journey less to end in home,
Thy mistress, and my bride.[ He dismounts .
Good Albus, 't is enough for one day's riding.
Here shall our bivouac be.
Surely by that green sward some brook is hiding
To welcome thee and me.
Yes, hark! Its laugh betrays it. Graze thou there,
Nor fear the camp's alarms.
[ Lets the horse go and turns, perceiving the cross on the hillside .
See where a cross, inviting me to prayer,
Outspreads its sacred arms.
O first of many that mine eyes shall see
On altar, tomb, and tower,
Art thou the last of crosses come to me
Before my guerdon's hour?
Or first or last, and by whatever hands
Here planted in the wild,
Hail to thee, cross, that blessest in far lands
Thy champion and thy child.
[ Goes up to the cross and kneels before it.
The angel of the Lord appeared to Mary
And she conceived of the Holy Ghost.
[ Continues silently .
Hermit [ from within ].
All's quiet. God hath made the danger pass.
[ Comes out .
Nay, hold! A horse without a rider here?
Perchance a devil, come, if I should mount him,
To gallop with me into yawning hell.
Yet he looks gentle, munching the young grass,
The tempting bridle looped about his neck.
I will go catch him. When the traders pass —
And they pass after Christmas — I will barter
The beast for a good cloak. The winter's blasts
Are on us.
Knight . Behold the handmaid of the Lord .
Be't done to me according to thy word —
[ Continues silently .
Hermit . A voice! A Christian voice! Some winged angel
Floats through the ether, magnifying God.
Merciful heaven! There, ay, there he kneels
Before the cross I planted. 'T is the cross
That to earth brings down heaven. Yes, Saint Michael,
For he is clad in arms, and his casque fringed
With the bright nimbus of his golden hair.
Yet he seems wingless; if he stirs a limb
The heavy armour clangs. No angel, surely;
Rather Saint George, with steed and magic lance
Returned to fight against the infidel.
Knight . And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us .[ Continues silently .

Hermit . Listen! they speak my native tongue in heaven.
Those are the words my sainted mother spake —
Nightly she crooned them, teaching Palmerin
His orisons.[ The Knight rises .
Come, shall I challenge him?
No: I am foul. I will hide crouching here
And spy him as he goes.
Knight .What stirreth there?
[ Pushes a branch aside .
Hermit [ falling on his knees ].
Have mercy, glorious Saint! a sinful man
Lives in this hovel; no man's enemy
Except his own. Sir, spare an anchorite.
Knight . Fear nothing, holy man. I am a Christian
Although no saint, but sinful more than thou
Who in the desert livest near to God.
My sword is stained with blood, my heart is rash,
And if my youth is free from foul dishonour
'T is God's good mercies hedge my wayward days
And marvellously guide me through the world.
But thou art surely wise. In solitude
The mind of the Most High possesseth men,
And they whom sorrow chaseth from the world
Learn in their grief the purposes of heaven.
God's hand appears in this, that here I find thee
To shrive me, father. Many months I roam
Through heathen wilds in sorry need of shrift.
Who knows if in some luckless fray to-morrow
I bite the dust, or in that golden sea
Perish unknelled and far from Christendom?
A soldier's soul should be like his bright blade
Ready to unsheathe.
Hermit .O music of high thoughts!
O harmony of long-forgotten words!
Fair visitation! In her youth the soul,
Gathering the heavy heritage of Adam,
Looks with strange horror on her own abyss
And on the stars, and her increasing knowledge
Ever increaseth sorrow; yet with years,
Touching the depths and wholly mortified,
She sees her desert bloom with mystic flowers
And sweeter smiles of God. O mortal bosom
Both in foreboding and in hope beguiled!
Not where I fancied in my night of trouble
Dawns comfort on mine eyes, but wondrously.
Whence camest thou? Tell me what princely house
And fruitful country bred and nurtured thee.
Knight . 'T is not a fruitful land. On heathered hills
My father fed his flocks. We gazed not down
On vineyard slopes and waters blue as these
But there a sea of swaying tree-tops spread
Boundless beneath us, without path or tower,
Save where beside the river's bend the monks
Had built their cells and cleared the wood away.
We called it milking time when we could hear
The distant music of their matin chimes.
Hermit . Be your monks rich?
Knight .Their fields are ploughed and brown,
But the poor upland shepherd has no corn;
His flock must feed him with its milk and flesh,
Unless he snare a partridge in the wood
As I did oft, or standing in the brook
Where the green water eddies in the pool
Enmesh the foolish fishes.
Hermit .Never shepherd
Could bear these arms or show this courtesy.
Where wast thou bred, if thou wast born a hind,
That thou art gentle? Who hath knighted thee?
Knight . The Baron of the Marches is my liege;
To him I owe my nurture and my sword,
And the sweet hope that leads me.
Hermit .Ah, the faith?
Knight . Nay, that my mother gave me with her prayers,
Saintliest of women.
Hermit .Thy mother and my own
Were then alike. Hast thou another hope
Sweeter than faith to thank thy master for?
Knight . He hath a daughter for whose hand I serve,
Having her love; and on the happy night
When I kept vigil o'er the virgin arms
In which I should be knighted at the dawn
He promised me her hand, if I proved worthy
In five years' service. At the morrow's mass
When we had both partaken of the Lord,
I knelt before him, and while all his vassals
Stood in a ring about us, up he rose
And with his flat sword struck my shoulder thus,
Speaking these words, now graven on my heart:
" Arise, Sir Knight, to battle with the world
For God and honour. If in youth thou fall,
May thy bright soul take instant wing to heaven,
But if thou blazon on this argent shield
Valorous deeds, and come in safety back,
Thy worth shall stand in lieu of ancient blood,
For valour was the first nobility,
And with the blessing of a hapless man
Whom three brave sons, reversing nature's sentence,
Condemned to mourn them, I will then deliver
My daughter to thy hands. She and her honour,
My lands, my castle, and my name be thine. "
Love is the hope, sweeter than faith in heaven,
For which I toil in arms.
Enough of that.
Methinks thou art a priest, and ere I leave thee
I fain would make confession of what sins
Lie on my soul.
Hermit .God knoweth what they are,
And hath, methinks, forgiven them already,
For by the candour of thy looks I know
Thou livest in his grace. But tell them o'er,
For by the speaking of a word the heart
Is lightened of its burden: and the Lord
Commissioned us to listen in his name
To all men's woes, and counsel and forgive.
Therefore say on.
Knight .Alas, where all is frail
I know not with what sorrow to begin.
If I could keep the thought of God alive
I might live better; but my wit is loose
And wanders into silly dreams awake,
All to no purpose. Everything that stirs
Sets me athinking of its life and ways
And I forget my own. If a frog jump,
Or busy squirrel run across my path,
Or three sad crows fly cawing through the wood,
Or if I spy a fox's trail, or print
Of deer's foot in the mould — off go my thoughts
And I am many leagues in fairyland
Before I shake away the lethargy
And say to my weak soul, Thou art a knight,
What hast thou done to-day?
Hermit .Be these thy sins?
Knight . Nay, not the chief. For in all exercise,
Or when in any test or feat of arms
I meet another, not the worthy cause,
The thought of God, my liege, or beauteous mistress
Strengthens my arm, but the mere rage and pride
Of the encounter sweeps my soul along,
And win I must, whatever goal it be,
When I am once engaged. That's in the blood.
So were our heathen fathers wont to fight
Merciless battles. But glory is the Lord's
Who metes with measure. Still I stumble there.
And envy, too, I often sin in that,
For from my childhood up I never brooked
A swifter runner, or a quicker eye
To hit the mark, and what another does
Better than I, that still I strive to do
Till he be worsted. Else I cannot sleep.
Hermit . Thou knowest, child, that victory is God's
To give and to deny. He gives it thee:
'T is proof of thy deserving. Use it well,
Which if thou do, to crave the victory
In thee, a soldier, is no grievous sin.
But hast thou not more special sins than these,
No wrong, no murder?
Knight .Murder have I none,
If murder be to kill a man by stealth
Or in a private quarrel, but in war
I oft have slain my man. I wear a sword
Though nature gave me not a butcher's hand
That loves to use it. — Oh, 't is marvellous
How men will slaughter for the sake of blood,
And Christians too. Before I crossed the sea,
The Margrave fought a battle in the north
Against the heathen. I then followed him,
And when the fight was over and the foe,
Routed, had fled into a deep morass
Black 'neath the splendours of a fiery sky,
The bugle called us back: and back I rode,
My shield slung on my back, my visor up,
Saying the Angelus, such peace there was
Beneath the twilight heavens, when a groan
That seemed the ending of a soul in pain
Made me look down; there lay a heathen knight,
And on his wounded breast a Christian crouched,
Stabbing him still; I snatched the villain's sword,
But just in time, and seized him by the throat
Amazed, and loud with oaths; " Thou slave, " quoth I,
" Why wilt thou send a valiant soul to hell,
That might be saved for heaven? The man is mine.
Take thou his armour, if some happy chance
Have made thee victor. But outrage not the cause
Which thou wouldst well defend. " We stripped the man,
Whose gaping wounds were deep and hard to staunch
With the few strips remaining of my tunic
Torn in the fight; and as he could not sit,
We needs must lift and bear him in our arms
Back to the camp. He was a knight indeed,
And when, his fever passing, I explained
Our holy faith — (our chaplains spoke not well
His northern tongue) — he listened open-eyed
As a child might, and when I stopped and asked,
" Dost thou believe? " he gazed and said: " I do.
As thou believest, so in life and death
Will I believe. " — So humble was his soul
And open to the sudden grace of heaven.
Yet him my Christian ruffian would have slain
To see the red blood ooze. 'T is pitiful!
And yet I do him wrong. The fellow came
The morning after, shy, with heavy looks,
And said he begged to bring the armour back.
It was not his, he had not felled the knight
But found him on the ground; and when I bade him
Retain the proffered sword, to use it better,
He sobbed aloud, and bathed my hands in tears,
So hearty was his grief. — But I confess
Another's sins, good father, and forget
My own, which I should tell of.
Hermit .Trouble not
To tell them over, for I know them now.
They are the same which seen in other men
The world calls virtues. But one vice there is
Which noblest natures in their youth are prone to.
Hast thou offended against chastity?
Knight . Ah, father, I am guilty too in that,
If whosoever looketh on a woman
Unholily, already hath committed
Adultery in his heart. 'T is in my thoughts,
Perhaps, that I have sinned; but I am young,
And have from childhood loved one noble maid.
All other faces are but mirrors to me
Of what she is in truth. When others smile
And seem to say that haply they could love me,
My heart yearns to them, yet its yearning goes
Like incense past a picture, to her spirit.
They are memorials of her I review
To make me constant. Nay, but that's not all.
A heavy season comes, — I know not whether
At waxing or at waning of the moon, —
When but the babble of a girlish voice
Heard from a window, or a hand stretched forth,
Or a chance motion, stops the beating heart
Here in my breast, and melts my very soul,
And I stand there bewitched, my brain benumbed,
And nothing in me but the fell desire
To do I know not what. — 'T is dreams, dreams, dreams,
And they are evil, treacherous, and base
When they come so. One day on every side
They girt me round. I cried to them " For shame! "
They would not go nor quit tormenting me
Till I put spurs into my steed, and rode,
Rode with clenched teeth, hacking all branches off
Within my axe's compass. When I stopped
My soul was free: " We have outridden them,
Albus, " I cried, " the demons of that place
Of foul enchantment! Here's the blue again
Smiling upon us, God, and all his saints. "
Father, methinks the agony of death
May happen so. A stifling darkness comes
Upon the feeble soul, and doubtfully
She keeps her strength alive on far-off hopes
In that great stress of anguish. But it passes
And slowly we awake in paradise.
Hermit . In paradise, my son, when thou awakest
If I still suffer in the lake of fire
Make me some prayerful alms, who in the name
Of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
Absolve thee now.
Knight .And for my penance, father,
What lay you on?
Hermit .Three Aves for three days
Say for the soul of one unlike thyself
Though of thy country. Robbers bore him thence
Into their kingdoms. Hast thou never heard
Tell of the hordes that ravaged Christendom
Ere thou wast born, belike.
Knight .Nay, I remember.
'T was then my mother brought me from the hills
To dwell beside the castle, for the Huns
Had slain my father and my elder brother
And driven the sheep away.
Hermit .The Huns? The Huns?
Knight . Ay, when they ravaged all the land about
Upon their western march.
Hermit .They slew thy brother?
Thou sawest his body?
Knight .Nay, we saw it not.
We fled, and many fearful weeks were past
Ere we returned to search.
Hermit .The Lord is great.
Thy brother's name was —
Knight .Damian.
Hermit .God of mercies,
What shall become of us!
Knight .Thy gaze is fixed.
What ails thee? Rest thee there.
Hermit .I cannot speak.
I faint. Since dawn I have not tasted food.
A draught! A morsel! Ah, my end is near.
Knight . I have a panier by my saddle-bow
With food. — Albus has wandered down the glade. —
I shall be here anon.[ Exit .
Hermit .What bodes this portent?
My practised soul well knows the things of earth,
And there is none like this. Impossible.
This is some essence metaphysical,
And not the thing it seems. So much is sure;
But whether fiend or minister of grace
How shall I know? Is he a subtle demon
And wins my ear? I am the devil's pawn.
Is he an angel and I put him by?
Then I am damned for that. All other sins
Shall be forgiven, save such blasphemy
Against the Holy Ghost. And being dead
Might not my brother's spirit come from heaven?
And though I be unworthy in my sins
Of saintly visitation, I believe
This vision is from God. 'T is beautiful
And clothed in Christian speech and charity.
Was not Mount Carmel, Lord, thy haunt of old
Where men went up to meet thee? Show thy face.
The Apostles at Emmaus knew the Lord
When he broke bread. Blind heart, an angel comes
To sup with thee to-night. Misknow him not.
The ravens of Elijah, who were black,
Came from the Lord, and Raphael himself
Who led the lost Tobias by the hand
Was black beside this vision's loveliness.
Yea, by its glory pale the three bright strangers
That from the desert came to Abraham's tent
In figure of the blessed Trinity. —
What am I raving? Am I Abraham,
Tobias, or Elijah, that the gods
Should visit me? Did not the artful devil
Come to Saint Anthony in beauteous form?
When first this ghost approached I dreaded him, —
A certain sign. Yet by his subtle wiles,
Flattering my earthly hopes, he vanquished me
And quieted my doubts — as if Beelzebub
Could not feign piety to murder souls!
What, my young brother, whom I counted dead,
Found in this shape, a knight, a Paladin,
A vision such as minstrels sing about?
Palpable lie, ab ominable snare
The demon mocks me with! Let me but cry,
" I am thy brother, I am Damian, "
Let me but clasp his knees and with a flood
Of joyful penitential childish tears
Water his feet, and then look up again
To drink the grace of his benignant eyes
And by his kiss be healed in soul and body,
And I shall see the grinning demon's self
And feel that icy manacle, his claw,
Clasping my wrist for ever. " Thou art damned,
Damned, " shrieks the fiend, " damned in believing lies,
Damned in renouncing for a dreamful joy
Thy solitude and penance. Thou art damned. "
Yes, 't is a hellish plot confronts me here.
A knight, my brother, come to comfort me!
'T is madness and wild dreams. — Again he comes.
His gesture says, Here's food. Pitiful heaven,
Assist me now. Let me not now be lost.
Suffer my vigils and perpetual fasts
To strengthen my resolve. To be so happy
Were rash, and ah, how vain! To drown their sorrow
Fools barter heaven for a drunkard's joy.
Re-enter Knight .
Knight . Drink this. 'T is water from the virgin springs
Of Carmel, pure and cold. Stains of the world
That leave the heavens clean leave earth's own heart
Immaculate. 'T is but her outer garment
That man and roving beast avail to smear.
The curse of Adam stops at living things
And Nature sleeps untainted. There is healing
In such a fountain draught. Taste of this bread.
Acorns I also bring and well-dried figs.
Take freely: there is plenteous store for both.
For often as I ride a village through
Or tighten as I start from hostelries
My horse's girth, the hospitable dame
Or her young daughter brings me something forth
From the rich larder, now a loaf or fowl
And now a goat-skin full of seasoned wine.
God prompts their kindly hearts and makes them bounteous
Lest my strength fail me ere my journey's end,
Who knows how distant yet. — Come, break thy fast.
Remember, father, this is Christmas Eve
When angels, joining in the songs of earth,
Make mortals joyful, knowing their painful flesh
Allied to deity.
Hermit .I crave no food.
Knight . Nay, nay, thy faintness called for it but now.
Hermit . Not hunger gave that cry but wonderment.
Knight . At my poor brother's name?
Hermit .Thy brother lives.
Knight . Where? Dost thou know him? In this Holy Land?
Hermit . Poor Damian of the Marches! Verily
His sins are scarlet. Pray for him, fair Knight,
But seek not to discover his abode.
If thou shouldst find him he would die of shame
For bringing shame upon thee.
Knight .Hast thou seen him
Or is it slander of a gossip's mouth
That now usurps thy tongue? If he be fallen
He hath the greater need of charity
And some late succour.
Hermit .Through long wanderings
We never once were parted. In his youth
I deemed him honest, loved him as myself,
Nor doubted he should richly thrive and prosper
Amongst the sons of men. But day by day
The hand of opportunity unmasked
The sleeping guilt within. Envy and greed,
Pitiless malice, pride, and wantonness
Started like lion's cubs that scent their prey
And roared increasingly. Time drew aside
Veil after veil that cloaked his villainy,
Till looking on his stark and naked soul
I stood aghast and trembled.
Knight .God, that made us,
Engraved his sacred image in our hearts
Deeper than cruel eyes may boast to pierce.
Has not my brother too a priceless soul
For which Christ died? Did God not ransom it?
Yes, I will find him, lift him to my breast
And say, " Forget the past. Thy home is here. "
Hermit . Beware! Didst thou embrace him he would die,
And he hath grievous penance yet to do
Ere he be ripe for heaven. In purgatory
The pains are doubly sharp and manifold
With which our guilt is cleansed. Forbear to search.
Knight . This ministration is a task that heaven
Now lays upon me. Hinder not his weal.
What better battle could approve my courage
Than in a brother's soul to fight despair?
If I could bring that brother back to life
Long dead to me, and dead, it seems, to God,
Were 't not a deed of Christian chivalry
To win my lady by? Father, I pray thee,
Where is my brother now?
Hermit .A mystery
Enshrouds his penance. Vain to question more.
A secret vow on which salvation hangs
Lies between him and all men.
Knight .Marvellous!
Where hath he roamed, what nameless sin committed
That I may not embrace him?
Hermit .Listen, Knight,
For I may tell thee that; and when thou knowest
The sins he shrives and what his penance is,
Assist him with thy charitable prayers
To bear his cross, but lift it not away,
For with it goes his hope of paradise.
Knight . There is indeed some mystery in this.
The pain of it doth weigh upon thy soul
Even in the telling.
Hermit .Did his own pale lips
Read from the branded tablets of his heart
The record of his sorrows, they could never
More truly speak than I, for all his woes
I knew, and inly felt them as my own.
Would that some ruffian knife had gashed his throat
On that foul day of slaughter, when thy mother
Bore thee afar to safety. Ah, how near
Salvation hung that day above his head!
But wondrously, as Isaac once was spared,
Some voice he heard not stayed the murderous hand,
Then dealing death abroad; and from that mercy
The dreadful brood of all his torments sprang.
They bound his wrists with painful twisted thongs
And drove him with the flocks and captive women
Into their camp, across the smouldering heaps
Of burning rubbish and through sulphurous fumes.
That night he found him tied behind a cart —
The crawling palace of that savage chief
Whose greed had saved him. Shivering he stood,
For they had stripped him, through the starlight hours,
And found no piteous orb less bright above him
For looking on his grief. Alas, his soul
Entered that night into the maze of hell.
For gazing on those stars and on the corpses
Of all he loved and knew, mangled and bare,
Upbraiding heaven with their lidless eyes,
And heaven's eyes still smiling back at them,
He said to his cold heart, " There is no God. "
And when the rosy dawn with jocund seeming
Gilded the valley as if naught had chanced,
He, like the morning, banished grief and love,
And in his vain and cruel heart repeating
" There is no God, " arose to greet the sun.
They took him to a village by a stream,
And in the market sold him to a Jew,
A long-robed man, who stroked thy brother's hair —
'T was flaxen then and silken as thy own —
And chuckled as he hurried him away
Into a galley, by the margin moored.
They voyaged long, until they reached a vast
And splendid city. Egypt's sunken shore
Stretches behind it, and before its walls
Pharos, by day a pillar and by night
A flaming beacon, greets the mariner.
'T is Satan's capital. If holy men
Have dwelt within it, teaching all the Church,
That was of old. Now Saracens and Jews
Possess it wholly. There no Christian thrives,
But every monstrous and lascivious crime
Findeth a palace or a den to hide it.
There did thy brother waste his youth, a slave,
And no unwilling service did he render
To every base command. His shepherd's skin,
Ruddy with mountain suns, they smoothed with unguents,
And bleached in pillared courts; they shaved his hair,
Forbade him labour, save to hold a torch
While his young masters read, or at the banquet
To mix the lucent sherbets with the snows
Of Sinai's deepest gorge, or in the censer
To drop large incense-grains. He learned to sing
What songs of wine their ribald poets penned,
And all the witch of Lesbos raved of love.
The lute and timbrel in his skilful hands
They loved to place; oft in their languid souls
His wild chant roused some savage memory
And their hearts leapt like leopards in the night
That prowl through broad Sahara. His delight
Was henceforth the choice morsel, the fat fee,
The subtle theft. He brought the gossip home
From the loud market, lest his lord should yawn
The morning long beneath the barber's hands,
Nor praise his wit and to the tittering group
Repeat his story. In the brothel streets
He ran sly errands, nor escaped in fear
If as he passed some wife of Potiphar
Plucked at his tunic. His best art it was
To know the cunning mixture of good wines
And poisons too, if some adulterous slave
Or long-lived uncle or importunate brother
Needed a poison. — Close about his soul
This bitter flood of luxury crept up
Until it choked him. He forgot the past
And blushed to be a Christian. Their vain prayers
He learned to mutter, and was circumcised.
Thrice in the day, and dawn and noon and eve,
He washed his feet and hands, a foolish rite
That left the soul still foul. Twice seven devils
Lodged in his body and tormented him,
And lust pursued him when all ways of lust
Were stale and sickened.

But there came an end.
For by the flesh as he had chiefly sinned,
So in the flesh he had his punishment.
Ulcers and boils, to make another Job,
Thickened upon him, and his beauty gone,
They drove him like a pest from all their gates
Among the lepers. Then he called on God.
Then he remembered all he once had heard
But understood not touching Calvary;
And rising up, all naked as he was,
He plucked the stout stem of a bramble-bush
To be his palmer's staff, and with a rag
That once had been the blanket of a mule
Girded his loins, and stalked into the wild.
Knight . And whither, father, whither did he go?
Hermit . Mount Sinai first received him, on whose crests
The Lord in the beginning reared his throne,
And from whose spurs and watered crevices
The children of Saint Anthony for ever
Pour praise and supplication. There he dwelt,
Recalling to his troubled memory
The precepts of the faith; but from those haunts
He journeyed soon to deeper solitudes.
Knight . Then he repented and is surely saved?
Hermit . God grant it, son, God grant it for thy sake.
'T is not a day can change the heart of man,
Though grace doth much. The ancient demons lurk
Still in their dark recesses, and at night,
Or in the idle moments when the soul
Breathes 'mid her travail, suddenly assail.
In the vast wilderness the starving eye
Spies many shapes that feed its lust. To me
The buzz of bees, the lizard's sunny sleep,
The snake's lithe coils are full of languishment.
Oh, how the base blood then assaults the heart
Crying, " Fool, fool, what were the life of heaven
Unless in heaven too the sun were warm
And the blood rose and all the passions flared,
Even as in worms compact of earth and fire
That lecherously writhe? Their goads and stings
Are in thy flesh, why not their ravishment? "
They are strange shapes the devil sometimes takes.
There was a vine that crept along this wall,
Ancient and knotted; far its branches spread
And with their leafy greenness made a bower
Over my cell. The juicy clusters hung
Not far above me, and the little birds
Chirped in the sun-flecked tangle all day long,
Hopping from twig to twig and carolling.
I sat and listened, and methought they said:
" Bad hairy man, thou only in this world
Repinest, hater of thyself and us,
Thou art all nature's single enemy. "
And with a doubt that cleft my heart in twain
I sat and pondered what they sang to me.
Then I looked up into the sunlit maze
Of that old vine, I breathed its subtle scent,
I watched its spotted shadows shift and change
With gusty murmurous tremblings of its leaves
And eager tendrils, curling through the air,
Until it seemed as if the thing had life
And was a devil stooping over me
With the obsession of his purring breath
Wooing me to perdition. But I laughed,
For I had dealt with imps of hell before.
I searched the stubble till I found two flints,
Sharp and with something like a cross upon them,
And straight about the vine's outspreading roots
Began to dig. A week, methinks, I dug
With secret joy, well knowing that in vain
The demon thought to ripen all his grapes.
His filthy roots, now dangling in the air,
Dried in the sun. In August fell the leaves,
And the dead branches with the autumn's flaw
Rotted and broke; now, see, they feed my fire.
And when the Spring returns no silly birds
Will fret me with their singing. God be praised
That I could balk that devil: long he mocked
My lonely penance with his evil eye.
But others come anon; and what I suffer
'T is very like thy brother suffers too.
Knight . I cannot think so, father. Thou art weak
And long hast laid the hopes of youth aside.
Thou canst not love. My brother still is young —
Hermit . Alas, if grief had multiplied his years!
Knight . He yet can love, and any natural voice
Of wood or mountain, or perchance my own,
Might wake in him another better life
Of peace and happy hopes. We love the forest,
We who were nurtured in its magic depths.
Oft has it seemed as if God spoke to us
In the low voices of the prayerful boughs
That whisper nighest heaven.
Hermit . This false world
Is naught, my son, but what we make of it.
Knight . Then I must think my brother loves the woods
And hears God's message in their murmuring.
Had he dwelt here, a hermit like thyself,
He would have suffered that old vine to grow
And those blithe birds to sing. 'T is positive,
Else other blood than mine must fill his veins.
Oh, I will find him yet. — I leave thee, father.
Thou hast with heavy tidings and great hope
Burdened my soul. Now I must journey on.
I pray, thy blessing.
Hermit .Kneel, thou happy stranger,
Kneel, for a vision comes into my heart
And I must prophesy. Thus saith the Lord:
" Thou shalt not know thy brother upon earth;
My will forbids. But thou shalt pass him by,
And as Sair Peter's shadow healed a man,
The passing of thee, by my grace and mercy,
Shall save thy brother's soul. " This comfort take
And go thy ways.
Knight .The will of God be done.
If not on earth, we yet may meet in heaven.
Hermit . God grant it.
Knight .May God keep thee.
Hermit .Fare thee well.
Knight . [ sings as he goes ].
The star stood still o'er Bethlehem
That showed the wise the way,
And where the shepherds sleeping lay
The angels sang to them:
Glory be to God on high
And peace on earth to men.
Hermit . Lord of Mount Carmel, hearken to my prayer.
God of the hills, accept my sacrifice.
Rate this poem: 


No reviews yet.