Far Horizons

by Bliss Carman


 

THE GOOD PRIEST OF GOURIN


 

IN dark old Brittany linger
Traditions and tales of the past,
When belief was more moving than now
And the world more wondrous and vast.

Here is a strange sweet legend

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That has many a time been told,
But never before was written down
In language new or old.

Passing from lip to lip
Through that province by the sea,

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The faith-worn treasure came at last
To the friend who gave it to me.

In the ancient graveyard at Gourin
My friend espied one stone
Quite new, on top of its pediments

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Age-worn and lichen-grown.

The old old slab, they said,
As a questioning look they caught,
Was worn away by the feet
Of little children, brought

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By mothers to walk on the tomb.
A word of amazement led
To this tale of the ancient days
And the goodness of one long dead.

Hundreds of years ago

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In the parish there lived a priest
Greatly beloved by his people
And his children—not the least.

For he loved the little folk
Even as the Master had done

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When He took them up in his arms
And blessed them every one.

But one sad human weakness
Afflicted this good curé.
When he had fallen asleep

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After his work of the day,

He could hardly be roused again,
But would drift back into sleep,
As a vessel cut from her moorings
Will drift out onto the deep.

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One night as he slept there came
A hurried knock at his door,
To summon him to baptize
A little one stricken sore.

Yes, yes, he would come at once!

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But frail is our flesh. The tide
Of sleep engulfed him again,
And by morning the child had died.

Grief for the loss of a soul
And remorse tore at his heart.

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Unworthy one! He could serve
No longer, he must depart!

So one night, turning his back
On the parish he loved, he set out
For the nearest port, his step

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Heavy enough no doubt.

Thence he took ship and sailed
For Ireland, setting his face
To a new life that should repair
His sorry fault, by God's grace.

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Nearing the coast, he found
Among his belongings the key—
Thrust in his pocket in haste—
To the door of his Sacristy.

Overboard it must go!

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Not a single tie must remain
With all he had loved and lost,
To bring it to mind again.

For years in a new-found home
With patience and love as of old

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He labored among the poor
And the suffering in his fold.

And always his chiefest joy
Were the children in his care,
For he loved them tenderly—

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That spirit devoted and rare.

And they all loved him till he seemed
Almost a saint in their eyes,
With a touch of glory his worn
Old cassock could not disguise.

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So it went, till he stopped on a day
At an inn to sup and eat,
When they set before him a fish
Fresh from the sea for a treat.

As ever before a meal

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His thanks to God gave he.
Then lo, inside of the fish—
The key of his Sacristy!

A miracle truly. But why?
Could it be a mercy shown

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To one who had grievously sinned,
Repented, and tried to atone?

How else interpret the marvel?
Rejoicing he read it so,—
The days of his penance were past,

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He might arise and go,

Back to the Bretons he loved,
Be with his own once more.
Oh how they welcomed him,
How the children ran from each door!

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And there he toiled to his age,
In the footsteps of his Lord
With mercy and healing and love,
And passed to his reward.

He died, but surely his soul

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Lives on somewhere, somehow.
See how his tomb is worn
By children’s feet even now,

Where mothers bring them to walk
Back and forth on the stone,

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To strengthen the frail little bodies!
And he blesses them spirit and bone.

This is the ancient legend
From Gourin among the hills,
Where the faithful still believe,

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And all is as God wills.