Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE HERMIT'S PRAYER, by GEORGE H. SOULE JR.

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THE HERMIT'S PRAYER, by            
First Line: A hermit knelt before his woodland shrine
Last Line: Then spattered many a drop without a prayer.
Subject(s): Hermits; Yale University

A HERMIT knelt before his woodland shrine
Of blue, cold-rugged stone. The unhurried spring,
His rosary, o'er-spattering the sedge
Around the Virgin's feet, ran through the glen --
Cathedral arched, bright-paved in leaf mosaic,
Rich-windowed with the red of sunset clouds
Burning between the frets of woven boughs,
Murmuring with echoes from a choir of brooks
And low-accompanying breeze.
But hark! there rose
Beyond the hill a voice, gleefully
Climbing in tunefulness, and tripping on
Into a happy, happy hunting song!
New music of a voice! He looked, and shuddered,
For there upon the crest, against the sun,
All blood-red in her lightly hanging gown
There poised, surprised, a vision of a girl
Just ready to descend, her head thrown back,
Her breast with full breath heaving, and her hands
Swaying two saplings, as to hold her there.
Then, graceful as a falling maple leaf,
She skipped along the ground, and with her flew
The ghosts and all the images of love
He had lashed into darkness. Crouching back,
He trembled, crossed himself, and looked away,
Flung forth his scarce-clad arms, entreating her:
"Go, go, thou witch! Oh leave me now in peace!"
She stood before him, smiling in his eyes,
And touched his shoulder lightly with her hand.
"I am no witch," she answered laughingly,
"But just a maid who loves the autumn woods
And wanders at her will. To prove it thee
I'll sing to thee a Virgin's lullaby
My mother loved to croon to me at sunset.
She tilted back her head and eyed the sky
As if to see the tune; "Ah yes," she said,
And hummed, and started sweetly into song:

"My heart, as red as the sun,
My little one,
Yearns to Thee!
My arms, as warm as its beams
Almost, it seems,
Cling to Thee!

"But Thou, who rulest the sun,
My little one,
Need not me!
Angels will shelter Thy sleep
And they will keep
Thee from me!"

She tightly clasped her hands against her breast,
Her eyes were far, like stars before the dark,
Her tears dripped slow, as from a passing cloud,
Her low voice caught, as if the Mother sang.
The hermit started back, adoring her;
He fell upon his knees, with hands upraised;
Trembling, he bowed in esctasy of prayer:
"O Virgin, sacred, most immaculate,
Pardon, oh pardon my presumptuous sin!"
Her laughter fled from her and filled the dell,
Repeated clear from every tree and stone;
She took his face between her light young hands
And lifted it until he looked at her,
All smiling gazed she in his blighted eyes,
And laughing said to him: "No -- no -- not I --
Oh do not worship me -- " She paused, her smile
Faded, as sunset into gloom, so sweet
And tenderly, as she bent down, and pressed
Her lips against his forehead. He leapt up,
But she had turned and fled, and as he heard
Her footsteps rustling dim away, his arms
Sank empty to his sides. He bowed his head,
Dropped slowly to his knees, and prayed: "O Lord,
I thank Thee for Thine ever-present help
And Thy deliverance from this -- foul -- witch!"
Darkness and loneliness crept up to him,
He heard the whispering voices of the breeze,
And the low-singing runlet, and the spring --
Then spattered many a drop without a prayer.

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