Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ST. JUAN GUALBERTO, by ROBERT SOUTHEY

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ST. JUAN GUALBERTO, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: The work is done, the fabric is complete
Last Line: And still the good man's name adorns the sainted roll.
Subject(s): Catholic Church - Liturgy; Labor & Laborers; Monks; Piety; Work; Workers


THE work is done, the fabric is complete;
Distinct the traveller sees its distant tower,
Yet ere his steps attain the sacred seat,
Must toil for many a league and many an hour.
Elate the abbot sees the pile and knows
Stateliest of convents now, his new Moscera rose.


Long were the tale that told Moscera's pride,
Its columns' clustered strength and lofty state,
How many a saint bedeck'd its sculptured side,
What intersecting arches graced its gate;
Its tower how high, its massy walls how strong,
These fairly to describe were sure a tedious song.


Yet while the fane rose slowly from the ground,
But little store of charity, I ween,
The passing pilgrim at Moscera found;
And often there the mendicant was seen
Hopeless to turn him from the convent door,
For this so costly work still kept the brethren poor.


Now all is perfect, and from every side
They flock to view the fabric, young and old.
Who now can tell Rodulfo's secret pride,
When on the sabbath day his eyes behold
The multitudes that crowd his chapel floor,
Some sure to serve their God, to see Moscera more.


So chanced it that Gualberto pass'd that way,
Since sainted for a life of holy deeds;
He paused the new-rear'd convent to survey,
And, whilst o'er all its bulk his eye proceeds,
Sorrows, as one whose holier feelings deem
That ill so proud a pile did humble monks beseem.


Him, musing as he stood, Rodulfo saw,
And forth he came to greet the holy guest
For he was known as one who held the law
Of Benedict, and each severe behest
So duly kept with such religious care,
That Heaven had oft vouchsafed its wonders to his prayer.


"Good brother, welcome!" thus Rodulfo cries,
"In sooth it glads me to behold you here;
It is Gualberto! and mine aged eyes
Did not deceive me: yet full many a year
Has slipt away since last you bade farewell
To me your host and my uncomfortable cell.


"'Twas but a sorry welcome then you found,
And such as suited ill a guest so dear;
The pile was ruinous old, the base unsound,
It glads me more to bid you welcome here
That you can call to mind our former state—
Come, brother, pass with me the new Moscera's gate."


So spake the cheerful abbot, but no smile
Of answering joy softened Gualberto's brow;
He raised his hand, and pointed to the pile,
"Moscera better pleased me then, than now!
A palace this, befitting kingly pride!
Will holiness, my friend, in palace pomp abide?"


"Ay," cries Rodulfo, "'tis a goodly place!
And pomp becomes the house of worship well.
Nay, scowl not round with so severe a face!
When earthly kings in seats of grandeur dwell,
Where art exhausted decks the sumptuous hall,
Can poor and sordid huts beseem the Lord of all?"


"And ye have rear'd these stately towers on high
To serve your God?" the monk severe replied.
"It rose from zeal and earnest piety,
And prompted by no worldly thoughts beside?
Abbot, to him who prays with soul sincere
In humble hermit cell, God will incline his ear.


"Rodulfo! whilst this haughty building rose,
Still was the pilgrim welcome at your door?
Did charity relieve the orphans' woes?
Clothed ye the naked? did ye feed the poor?
He who with alms most succours the distrest,
Proud abbot, know, he serves his heavenly Father best.


"Did they in sumptuous palaces go dwell
Who first abandoned all to serve the Lord?
Their place of worship was the desert cell,
Wild fruits and berries spread their frugal board,
And if a brook, like this, ran murmuring by,
They blest their gracious God, and thought it luxury."


Then anger darkened in Rodulfo's face,
"Enough of preaching," sharply he replied,
"Thou art grown envious;—'tis a common case,
Humility is made the cloak of pride.
Proud of our home's magnificence are we,
But thou art far more proud in rags and beggary."


With that Gualberto cried in fervent tone,
"O Father, hear me! if this splendid pile
Was for thine honour rear'd, and thine alone,
Bless it, O Father, with thy fostering smile!
Still may it stand, and never evil know,
Long as beside its walls the eternal stream shall flow."


"But, Lord, if vain and worldly-minded men
Have wasted here the wealth which thou hast lent,
To pamper worldly pride; frown on it then!
Soon be thy vengeance manifestly sent,
Let yonder brook that flows so calm beside,
Now from its base sweep down the unholy house of pride!"


He said—and lo! the brook no longer flows;
The waters pause, and now they swell on high;
High and more high the mass of water grows,
The affrighted brethren from Moscera fly,
And on their saints and on their God they call,
For now the mountain bulk o'ertops the convent wall.


It falls, the mountain bulk, with thunder sound!
Full on Moscera's pile the vengeance falls!
Its lofty tower now rushes to the ground,
Prone lie its columns now, its high arched walls,
Earth shakes beneath the onward-rolling tide,
That from its base swept down the unholy house of pride.


Were old Gualberto's reasons built on truth,
Dear George, or like Moscera's base unsound?
This sure I know, that glad am I, in sooth,
He only play'd his pranks on foreign ground;
For had he turn'd the stream on England too,
The Vandal monk had spoilt full many a goodly view.


Then Malmesbury's arch had never met my sight,
Nor Battle's vast and venerable pile;
I had not traversed then with such delight
The hallowed ruins of our Arthur's isle,
Where many a pilgrim's curse is well bestow'd
On those who rob its walls to mend the turnpike road.


Wells would have fallen, dear George, thy country's pride;
And Canning's stately church been rear'd in vain.
Nor had the traveller Ely's tower descried,
Which when thou seest far o'er the fenny plain,
Dear George, I counsel thee to turn that way,
Its ancient beauties sure will well reward delay.


And we should never then have heard, I think,
At evening hour, great Tom's tremendous knell;
The fountain streams that now in Christ-Church stink,
Had niagara'd o'er the quadrangle;
But, as 'twas beauty that deserved the flood,
I ween, dear George, our own old college might have stood.


Then had not Westminster, the house of God,
Served for a concert room, or signal post;
Old Thames, obedient to the father's nod,
Had swept down Greenwich, England's noblest boast;
And eager to destroy the unholy walls,
Fleet-ditch had roll'd up hill to overwhelm St. Paul's.


George, dost thou deem the legendary deeds
Of Romish saints a useless medley store
Of lies, that he flings time away who reads?
And wouldst thou rather bid me puzzle o'er
Matter and mind, and all the eternal round,
Plunged headlong down the dark and fathomless profound?


Now do I bless the man who undertook
These monks and martyrs to biographize,
And love to ponder o'er his ponderous book,
The mingled mass of nature and of lies,
Where angels now, now Beelzebubs appear,
And blind and honest zeal, and holy faith sincere.


'Tis not all Euclid truth, and yet 'twere hard
The fabling monks for fabling to abuse;
What if a monk, from better theme debarred,
Some pious subject for a tale should chuse,
How some good man the flesh and fiend o'ercame,
His taste methinks, and not his conscience, were to blame.


In after years, what he, good man! had wrote,
As we write novels to instruct our youth,
Went travelling on, its origin forgot,
Till at the length it past for gospel truth.
A fair account! and shouldst thou like the plea,
Thank thou thy valued friend, dear George, who taught it me.


All is not false that seems at first a lie.
One Antolinez, once a Spanish knight,
Knelt at the mass, when lo! the troops hard by,
Before the expected hour began the fight.
Though courage, duty, honour summoned there,
He chose to forfeit all, not leave the unfinish'd prayer.


But whilst devoutly thus the unarm'd knight
Waits till the holy service should be o'er,
Even then the foremost in the furious fight
Was he beheld to bathe his sword in gore,
First in the van his plumes were seen to play,
And Spain to him decreed the glory of the day.


The truth is told, and all at once exclaim,
His guardian angel heaven had deign'd to send;
And thus the tale is handed down to fame.
Now if this Antolinez had a friend,
Who in the hour of danger served him well,
Dear George, the tale is true, and yet no miracle.


I am not one who scan with scornful eyes
The dreams that make the enthusiast's best delight;
Nor thou the legendary lore despise
If of Gualberto yet again I write,
How first impell'd he sought the convent cell;
It is a simple tale, and one that pleased me well.


Fortune had smiled upon Gualberto's birth,
The heir of Valdespesa's rich domain.
An only child, he grew in years and worth,
And well repaid a father's anxious pain.
Oft had his sire in battle forced success,
Well for his valour known, and known for haughtiness.


It chanced that one in kindred near allied
Was slain by his hereditary foe;
Much by his sorrow moved, and more by pride,
The father vow'd that blood for blood should flow;
And from his youth Gualberto had been taught
That with unceasing hate should just revenge be sought.


Long did they wait; at length the tidings came
That through a lone and unfrequented way,
Soon would Anselmo,—such the murderer's name,—
Pass on his journey home, an easy prey.
"Go," cried the father, "meet him in the wood!"
And young Gualberto went, and laid in wait for blood.


When now the youth was at the forest shade
Arrived, it drew towards the close of day;
Anselmo haply might be long delay'd,
And he, already wearied with his way,
Beneath an ancient oak his limbs reclined,
And thoughts of near revenge alone possess'd his mind.


Slow sunk the glorious sun, a roseate light
Spread o'er the forest from his lingering rays,
The glowing clouds upon Gualberto's sight
Soften'd in shade,—he could not choose but gaze;
And now a placid greyness clad the heaven,
Save where the west retain'd the last green light of even.


Cool breathed the grateful air, and fresher now
The fragrance of the autumnal leaves arose;
The passing gale scarce moved the o'erhanging bough;
And not a sound disturb'd the deep repose,
Save when a falling leaf came fluttering by,
Save the near brooklet's stream that murmur'd quietly.


Is there who has not felt the deep delight,
The hush of soul, that scenes like these impart?
The breast they will not soften, is not right;
And young Gualberto was not hard of heart—
Yet sure he thinks revenge becomes him well,
When from a neighbouring church he heard the vesper bell.


The Catholic who hears that vesper bell,
Howe'er employed, must put a prayer to heaven.
In foreign lands I liked the custom well,
For with the calm and sober thoughts of even
It well accords; and shouldst thou journey there,
It will not hurt thee, George, to join that vesper-prayer.


Gualberto had been duly taught to hold
Each pious rite with most religious care,
And—for the young man's feelings were not cold—
He never yet had miss'd his vesper-prayer.
But strange misgivings now his heart invade,
And when the vesper bell had ceased, he had not pray'd.


And wherefore was it that he had not pray'd?
The sudden doubt arose within his mind,
And many a former precept then he weigh'd,
The words of Him who died to save mankind,
How 'twas the meek who should inherit heaven,
And man should man forgive, if he would be forgiven.


Troubled at heart, almost he felt a hope
That yet some chance his victim might delay.
So as he mused, adown the neighbouring slope
He saw a lonely traveller on his way;
And now he knows the man so much abhorr'd,—
His holier thoughts are gone; he bares the murderous sword.


"The house of Valdespesa gives the blow!
Go, and our vengeance to our kinsman tell!"
Despair and terror seized the unarm'd foe,
And prostrate at the young man's knees he fell,
And stopt his hand and cried—"Oh, do not take
A wretched sinner's life! Mercy, for Jesus' sake!"


At that most blessed name, as at a spell,
Conscience, the God within him, smote his heart.
His hand for murder raised unharming fell,
He felt cold sweat-drops on his forehead start,
A moment mute in holy horror stood,
Then cried, "Joy, joy, my God! I have not shed his blood!"


He raised Anselmo up, and bade him live,
And bless, for both preserved, that holy name;
And pray'd the astonish'd foeman to forgive
The bloody purpose led by which he came.
Then to the neighbouring church he sped away,
His overburthen'd soul before his God to lay.


He ran with breathless speed,—he reach'd the door,
Tumultuous tides his throbbing pulses swell—
He came to crave for pardon, to adore
For grace vouchsafed; before the cross he fell,
And raised his swimming eyes, and thought that there
He saw the imaged Christ smile favouring on his prayer.


A blest illusion! From that very night
The monk's austerest life devout he led;
And still he felt the enthusiast's deep delight,
And seraph-visions floated round his head;
The joys of heaven foretasted fill'd his soul,
And still the good man's name adorns the sainted roll.

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