Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, SAINT MACARIUS OF THE DESERT, by PHOEBE CARY

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

SAINT MACARIUS OF THE DESERT, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Good saint macarius, full of grace
Last Line: New in the kingdom of the lord.
Subject(s): Virtue; Heaven; Saints

GOOD Saint Macarius, full of grace,
And happy as none but a saint can be,
Abode in his cell, in a desert place,
With only angels for company;
And fasting daily till vesper time,
And praying oft till the hour of prime;
He wept so freely for all the sin
That ever had stained his soul below,
That, though the hue of his guilt had been
As scarlet, it must have changed to snow.

The Tempter scarce could charm his sight
Who came transformed to an angel of light;
The demons that pursued his track
He sent to a fiercer torment back;
And he wearied, with fast and penance grim,
The fiends that were sent to weary him,
Until at last it came about
That he vanquished the fiercest of Satan's brood,
And the powers of darkness, tired out,
Had left the anchoret unsubdued.

Yet I marvel what they could have been
The sins that he strove to wash away;
For he had fled from the haunts of men
In the pure, sweet dawn of his manhood's day.
But surely now they were all forgiven,
For alone in the desert, for sixty years,
He had eat of its scant herbs morn and even,
And black bread, moistened with bitter tears.

Yet so cunning and subtle is the mesh
For the souls of the unwary laid,
And so strong is the power of the world and flesh,
That the very elect have been betrayed.
And therefore even our holy saint,
When fast and penance and watch were done,
Made often bitter and loud complaint
Of the artful wiles of the Evil One.
For he found that none may flee from his ire,
Or find a refuge and safe retreat,
In the time when Satan doth desire
To have and to sift the soul like wheat.

Good Saint Macarius, having passed
The long, hot hours of the day in prayer,
Rose once an hungered, after a fast
That was long for even a saint to bear.
And looking without, where the shadows fell --
'T was a sight most rare in that lonely place --
Just at the door of his humble cell
He saw a stranger face to face,
Who greeted him in a tender tone,
That fell on his weary heart like balm,
As graciously from out his own
He dropped in the hermit's open palm

A cluster plucked from a fruitful vine,
Ripe and ruddy, and full of wine.
"Thanks," said the saint, for his heart was glad,
"My blessing take for a righteous deed;
'T is the very gift I would have had
For one in his sore distress and need."

Then, seizing a staff in his eager hand,
He hurried over the burning sand,
To a cell where a holy brother lay,
Wasting and dying day by day,
And gave, his dying thirst to slake,
The fruit 't were a sin for himself to take.

Alas! the fainting hermit said,
To the holy brother who watched his bed,
Short at the worst can be my stay
In this vile and wretched house of clay;
For my night is almost done below,
And at break of day I must rise and go,
Shall I yield at last the flesh to please,
And lose my soul for a moment's ease?
Nay, take this gift to my precious son,
Whose weary journey is scarce begun,
For the burden of penance and fast and prayer
Is a heavier thing for the young to bear.
Therefore his sin were not as mine,
Though he ate the pleasant fruit of the vine.

So, before another hour had gone,
The will of the dying man was done;
And the fair young monk, who had come to dwell
For the good of his soul in a desert-cell,
Had bound the sandals on his feet,
And drawn his hood about his head,
And, bearing the cluster ripe and sweet,
Was crossing the desert with cheerful tread.

For he said, 'T were well that an aged saint
Should break his fast with fruits like these:
But I in my vigor dare not taint
My soul with self-indulgencies.
And the holy father whom I seek,
By praying and fasting oft and long,
I fear me makes the flesh too weak
To keep the spirit brave and strong.

At the day-break Saint Macarius rose
From his peaceful sleep with conscience clear,
And lo! the youngest monk of those
Who lived in a desert-cell drew near;
And, greeting his father in the Lord,
Passed reverently the open door.
And again the hermit had on his board
The fruit untouched as it was before.

Then Saint Macarius joyful raised
His thankful eyes and hands to heaven,
And cried aloud: "The saints be praised
That unto all my sons was given
Such strength that, tempted as they have been,
Not a single soul hath yielded to sin."

And then, though he had not broken fast,
The lure was firmly put aside;
And in the future, as in the past,
A self-denying man to the last,
Good Saint Macarius lived and died.
And he never tasted the fruit of the vine,
Till he went to a righteous man's reward,
And took of the heavenly bread and wine
New in the kingdom of the Lord.

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