Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, DEATH AND THE MONK, by ARTHUR E. BAKER



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DEATH AND THE MONK, by            
First Line: Dead to a world that never saw my face
Last Line: "would god that death would free me from this death!"
Subject(s): Death; Monks; Yale University; Dead, The


DEAD to a world that never saw my face,
Dead to a world that never knew my heart,
Dead to a world that never felt my love.
Unloving, loveless, through the lonely night,
I pace the cloisters paved with graven slabs
That mark the bones and dust of monks long dead.
Aye, dust and ashes in my mouth to eat
My life is in this tomb of living men,
This charnel house where corpses move and breathe,
Life-shattered wrecks of what were mighty men,
Strong men or learned, knights of noble house,
Black-cowled, and silent as the flight of time.
But from the day when I, the hated fruit
Of man's desire and a woman's shame,
Was brought without a name into this world,
With all my patrimony Wine and Love
And all my heritage the lust to live,
I have been buried in this Hell of Hells;
Cherished half loathly for the love of God
By monks as passionless as the low stones
That pave their wind-swept cloisters. Joy of Life,
Childish affection, all, they battered down,
And broke my boyish spirit; till in time,
As years increased, I took the novice-vow,
And still too young to feel the fire, the cowl.
I lay before the altar steps alone
And over me was spread the cross-marked pall,
And with a cadenced wail the brothers sang:
"When Israel from out of Egypt land
And Jacob's house from the strange people came,
God turned the hard rock to a standing pool;
He turned the flint stone to a springing well!"
Then, as the silence fell again, I rose --
My body grimed with cross of ashes strewn.
Grave-naked, and all naked there I knelt,
All unashamed -- the dead are unashamed!
The Prior clad me in the rough, coarse robe
That has not left my body since -- the dead
Change not their raiment -- so I took my vows
Of Poverty. What other had I known,
My boyhood closed within a cloister-wall?
Of Chastity. What other had I known?
I have not seen a woman's face except
The image of God's Mother. To obey.
Too weak was I, too coarsely fed for pride.
My vows were words: words empty as my heart,
As starved of meaning as was I of soul.
Upon the altar lay a knotted cord,
A rosary, and these the aged prior
Bound on my boyish frame. "When thou wast young -- "
A mockery! I never had been young! --
"When thou wast young thou didst begird thyself,
And wentest, even where thou wouldst: but now
Stretch out thine arms: thou older art, and one
Shall lead thee where thou wouldst not."
Then the Mass
Was sung, and I received the Blessed Bread.
And while I knelt the organ played a dirge,
As all the brothers sang my requiem,
Hailing the dead.
Long years have passed away,
And many since have lain upon that cross
And many have been covered with the pall
And many girded with the unloosening knot.
David they called me then: David the Saint
They call me for my watchings and my prayers,
For in the course of days my nature grew
And forced itself against the cord and cowl
So that I craved for larger interests
Than Lauds and Prime, or Book and Rosary.
At first I prayed the Blessed Saints, and her,
The Queen of Saints, to shield me from myself;
My prayers fell back and bore me to the earth.
I tried to starve my mad desire down:
But still my pulses beat and drove me mad.
Three years agone, our abbot died, and me,
Of all our order, chose they to his place.
I dared not to refuse: Obedience
Too long had cowed me, and I took the place.
And now I loathe myself for my deceit,
Yet cannot go, for all of my desire:
I hate the brothers for their reverence,
For their blind honor to my saintliness.
I, shame to say, despise the Blessed Saints
For that they could not save me from myself,
And so I live an age of Hells in life --
A life more awful than the very death.
My girdle galls my flesh and calls me "Monk."
My rosary beats my knees and cries aloud:
"Thou art but dead!" and thus I answer it:
"Would God that Death would free me from this death!"





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