Concerning Cuthbert the Monk

Charles G.D. Roberts

Cuthbert, open! Let me in!
Cease your praying for a minute!
Here the darkness seems to grin,
Holds a thousand horrors in it;
Down the stony corridor
Footsteps pace the stony floor.

Here they foot it, pacing slow,
Monk-like, one behind another!—
Don't you hear me? Don't you know
I'm a little nervous, Brother?
Won't you speak? Then, by your leave,
Here's a guest for Christmas Eve!

Shrive me, but I got a fright!
Monks of centuries ago
Wander back to see to-night
How the old place looks.—Hello!
This the kind of watch you keep!
Come to pray—and go to sleep!

Ah, this mortal flesh is weak!
Who is saintly there's no saying.
Here are tears upon his cheek,
And he sleeps that should be praying;—
Sleeps, and dreams, and murmurs. Nay,
I'll not wake you.—Sleep away!

Holy saints, the night is keen!
How the nipping wind does drive
Through yon tree-tops, bare and lean,
Till their shadow seems alive,—
Patters through the bars, and falls,
Shivering, on the floor and walls!

How yon patch of freezing sky
Echoes back their bell-ringings!
Down in the gray city, nigh
Severn, every steeple swings.
All the busy streets are bright.
Many folk are out to-night.

—What's that, Brother? Did you speak?—
Christ save them that talk in sleep!
Smile they howsoever meek,
Somewhat in their hearts they keep.
We, good souls, what shifts we make
To keep talking whilst awake!

Christ be praised, that fetched me in
Early, yet a youngling, while
All unlearned in life and sin,
Love and travail, grief and guile!
For your world of two-score years,
Cuthbert, all you have is tears.

Dreaming, still he hears the bells
As he heard them years ago,
Ere he sought our quiet cells
Iron-mouthed and wrenched with woe,
Out of what dread storms who knows—
Faithfulest of friends and foes!

Faithful was he, aye, I ween,
Pitiful, and kind, and wise;
But in mindful moods I've seen
Flame enough in those sunk eyes!
Praised be Christ, whose timely Hand
Plucked from out the fire this brand!

Now in dreams he's many miles
Hence, he's back in Ireland.
Ah, how tenderly he smiles,
Stretching a caressing hand!
Backward now his memory glides
To old happy Christmas-tides.

Now once more a loving wife
Holds him; now he sees his boys,
Smiles at all their playful strife,
All their childish mirth and noise;
Softly now she strokes his hair.—
Ah, their world is very fair!

—Waking, all your loss shall be
Unforgotten evermore!
Sleep alone holds these for thee.
Sleep then, Brother!—To restore
All your heaven that has died
Heaven and Hell may be too wide!

Sleep, and dream, and be awhile
Happy, Cuthbert, once again!
Soon you'll wake, and cease to smile,
And your heart will sink with pain.
You will hear the merry town,—
And a weight will press you down.

Hungry-hearted, you will see
Only the thin shadows fall
From yon bleak-topped poplar-tree,—
Icy fingers on the wall.
You will watch them come and go,
Telling o'er your count of woe.

—Nay, now, hear me, how I prate!
I, a foolish monk, and old,
Maundering o'er a life and fate
To me unknown, by you untold!
Yet I know you're like to weep
Soon, so, Brother, this night sleep.

From In Divers Tones.

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Added 22 November 2008.
Updated 22 November 2008.