The Lay Of St. Ambrose

"And hard by doth dwell, in St. Catherine's cell,
Ambrose, the anchorite old and grey."
--THE LAY OF ST. NICHOLAS.


Ambrose the anchorite old and grey
Larruped himself in his lonely cell,
And many a welt on his pious pelt
The scourge evoked as it rose and fell.

For hours together the flagellant leather
Went whacketty-whack with his groans of pain;
And the lay-brothers said, with a wag of the head,
"Ambrose has been at the bottle again."

And such, in sooth, was the sober truth;
For the single fault of this saintly soul
Was a desert thirst for the cup accurst,--
A quenchless love for the Flowing Bowl.

When he woke at morn with a head forlorn
And a taste like a last-year swallow's nest,
He would kneel and pray, then rise and flay
His sinful body like all possessed.

Frequently tempted, he fell from grace,
And as often he found the devil to pay;
But by diligent scourging and diligent purging
He managed to keep Old Nick at bay.

This was the plight of our anchorite,--
An endless penance condemned to dree,--
When it chanced one day there came his way
A Mystical Book with a golden Key.

This Mystical Book was a guide to health,
That none might follow and go astray;
While a turn of the Key unlocked the wealth
That all unknown in the Scriptures lay.

Disease is sin, the Book defined;
Sickness is error to which men cling;
Pain is merely a state of mind,
And matter a non-existent thing.

If a tooth should ache, or a leg should break,
You simply "affirm" and it's sound again.
Cut and contusion are only delusion,
And indigestion a fancied pain.

For pain is naught if you "hold a thought,"
Fevers fly at your simple say;
You have but to affirm, and every germ
Will fold up its tent and steal away.

. . . . . . . . . .

From matin gong to even-song
Ambrose pondered this mystic lore,
Till what had seemed fiction took on a conviction
That words had never possessed before.

"If pain," quoth he, "is a state of mind,
If a rough hair shirt to silk is kin,--
If these things are error, pray where's the terror
In scourging and purging oneself of sin?

"It certainly seemeth good to me,
By and large, in part and in whole.
I'll put it in practice and find if it fact is,
Or only a mystical rigmarole."

. . . . . . . . . .

The very next night our anchorite
Of the Flowing Bowl drank long and deep.
He argued this wise: "New Thought applies
No fitter to lamb than it does to sheep."

When he woke at morn with a head forlorn
And a taste akin to a parrot's cage,
He knelt and prayed, then up and flayed
His sinful flesh in a righteous rage.

Whacketty-whack on breast and back,
Whacketty-whack, before, behind;
But he held the thought as he laid it on,
"Pain is merely a state of mind."

Whacketty-whack on breast and back,
Whacketty-whack on calf and shin;
And the lay-brothers said, with a wag of the head,
"Ain't he the glutton for discipline!"

. . . . . . . . . .

Now every night our anchorite
Was exceedingly tight when he went to bed.
The scourge that once pained him no longer restrained him,
Nor even the fear of an aching head.

For he woke at morn with a pate as clear
As the silvery chime of the matin bell;
And without any jogging he fell to his flogging,
And larruped himself in his lonely cell.

But the leather had lost its power to sting;
To pangs of the flesh he was now immune;
His rough hair shirt no longer hurt,
Nor the pebbles he wore in his wooden shoon.

When conscience was troubled he cheerfully doubled
His matinal dose of discipline;--
A deuce of a scourging, sufficient for purging
The Devil himself of original sin.

Whacketty-whack on breast and back,
Whacketty-whack from morn to noon;
Whacketty-whacketty-whacketty-whack!--
Till the abbey rang with the dismal tune.

Deacon and prior, lay-brother and friar
Exclaimed at these whoppings spectacular;
And even the Abbot remarked that the habit
Of scourging oneself might be carried too far.

"My son," said he, "I am pleased to see
Such penance as never was known before;
But you raise such a racket in dusting your jacket,
The noise is becoming a bit of a bore.

"How would it do if you whaled yourself
From eight to ten or from one to three?
Or if 'More' is your motto, pray hire a grotto;
I know of one you can have rent free."

. . . . . . . . . .

Ambrose the anchorite bowed his head,
And girded his loins and went away.
He rented a cavern not far from a tavern,
And tippled by night and scourged by day.

The more the penance the more the sin,
The more he whopped him the more he drank;
Till his hair fell out and his cheeks fell in,
And his corpulent figure grew long and lank.

At Whitsuntide he up and died,
While flaying himself for his final spree.
And who shall say whether 'twas liquor or leather
That hurried him into eternity?

They made him a saint, as well they might,
And gave him a beautiful aureole.
And--somehow or other, this circle of light
Suggests the rim of the Flowing Bowl.
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