My Lattice and Other Poems

by Frederick George Scott


 

THE ABBOT


 

A WANING moon was in the sky
And many a still cloud floated by,
With outline dark the abbey stood
    Fronting a line of wood.

With bowed head on the chapel stone

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The Abbot knelt for hours alone,
While round him coloured moonbeams threw
    Rose-work of richest hue.

A tiny altar-lamp burnt dim,
And lit the sculptured seraphim

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Which fringed the choir with faces bent
    Before the Sacrament.

The place was still as in a dream,
So very still, the ear did seem
To catch the voice of years gone by,

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    And long dead harmony.

The abbey clock above struck three,
The Abbot rose from bended knee,
His face was greyer than the stone,
    His eyes were woe-begone.

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He passed into the cloister dim,
The night-air brought no balm to him,
What anguish made his senses reel,
    Christ could not heal?

He entered at an iron grate,

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The halls within were desolate;
Like one who waketh from a spell,
    He halted at a cell.

Therein upon a pallet bed,
With bars of moonlight on his head,

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While winds through ivied mullions creep,
    A fair-haired boy did sleep.

Outside an owl did hoot and call
And drown the Abbot’s light foot-fall,
But rustle of those garments cere

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    In dreams the boy did hear.

“Hush, boy, ’tis I,” the Abbot said,
“Thy pure soul to the rescued dead
Shall bear my message; life is past,
    Hell’s meshes hold me fast.

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“Was thy sleep sweet? my sleep is o’er,
One speaks to thee who never more
Shall look on man (God send us grace),
    Nor ever see God's face.”

The boy through fear sat bolt upright

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In tongueless terror, for moonlight
Smote slanting on the face and eye,
    Which worked convulsively.

“One burden, boy, a weight of years,
Full to the brim of hopeless tears,

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Hath crushed me, bearing round my brain
    The double brand of Cain.

“Thy life and hopes are all before,
And mine are passed for evermore;
My secret in the years to come

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    Remember, but be dumb.

“O God, my heart beats loud within,
I slew my brother in mortal sin,
I stabbed him twice, not knowing, to free
    A maiden’s chastity.”

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The Abbot stood erect and tall,
His shadow fell along the wall,—
God save him, as if seeking grace,
    He hid his cowlèd face.

“A black snake slipt across my feet,

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Above bare boughs did part and meet,
There was a motion in the air
    And eyes watched everywhere.

“The deed was done in distant lands,
But his blood dabbled these same hands,

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And under trees where pale stars shine
    His eyes looked into mine.

“One look from those dead eyes of his,
And love rushed back to him; was this
The climax of his life who seemed

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    The king my boyhood dreamed?

“Shall sin and shall not love endure?—
Love grounded in the past and pure,
Man’s love for man, for angels fit,
    Could one act shatter it?”

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The boy sat upright, pale as death,
A numbness stole away his breath,
The fascination of the eye,
    Which moved convulsively.

“I fled at sunrise down the bay

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To where a mystic island lay,
Dazed with the cloudless arch of sky
    And waves’ monotony.

“And here a convert open stood,
Where monks sought peace in solitude;

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I entered with the rest to hide
    Within the Crucified.

“I told my woe to one; he said,—
‘Under thy feet, and overhead,
And all around is God. To-night,

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    Keep vigil, pray for light.’

“That night in cave-shrine, visions three
God and the Virgin sent to me;
Four angels fenced the cavern’s mouth
    With locked wings, north and south.

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“Thrice darkness fell, and thrice I lay
Low-poised above a sea, no day
Lit up its shoreless waves, no night
    Shut distance from the sight.

“No fish leaped up, no God looked down,

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No sound there was, I strove to drown,—
Ere waves were touched a wind did spring,
    And bore me on its wing.

“My blood stood still and thick as ice,
And thought held thought, as in a vice,

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The ages died, no death did bless
    The death of nothingness.

“Each time the soul did undergo
The torture of a separate woe,
The demon fangs insatiate,

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    Of doubt, despair and hate.

“I woke and told the monk my dreams;
His voice was sad, he said, ‘Meseems
No part one slain in his soul’s blood
    Shall have in Holy Rood.

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“ ‘But brother,’ said the agèd man,
‘God works by many a diverse plan,
And once vicarious agony
    Saved souls on Calvary.

“ ‘I know not but, with God in heaven,

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Some grace to lost souls may be given;
By fasts and scourgings, prayers and pains,
    Loose thou thy brother’s chains.’

“Yea, boy, have I not prayed to Heaven?
Has not life spoilt with bitter leaven

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And fasts and scourgings, night and day,
    The blood-guilt burnt away?

“But ever from the throat of hell
There booms a fearful passing bell
Of one, once slain in his soul’s blood,

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    Cast out from Holy Rood.

“The passions of the full-grown man
Concentre where his life began;
The boy’s love is not manifold,
    It grips with single hold.

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“The boyhood’s love is part of us,
No power can wrench it out, and thus
Love chained me to him in the gloom,
    And I had wrought his doom.

“The thing was with me day by day,

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And all my thinking underlay;
And even through hours when I forgot,
    Ached as a canker spot.

“My food was ashes in my mouth,
My very soul was seared with drouth,

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I banished thought, the struggle vain
    Brought back the thought again.

“The saints and angels held aloof,
My prayers fell back from chapel roof,
They had no lightness to ascend

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    Where earth and heaven blend.

“The stars did mock me with their peace,
The seasons brought me no release,
Despair and anguish like a sea
    And pain were under me.

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“And year by year more pains I gave,
Till life became a living grave,
Till, like the lost behind hell’s gate,
    My soul was desolate.”

Outside, an owl did hoot and call,

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But in the abbey silence all;
The Abbots’ voice had hollow sound,
    As if from underground.

“Hush, boy, the fiend came yesternight.”
The Abbot smiled—a gruesome sight,

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That smiling face in moonlight wan,
    With eyes so woe-begone—


“The fiend came yesternight to ask
The utmost deed that life can task,
A soul by self-death given to win

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    Another’s soul form sin.”

So fearful was the story told,
The boy’s teeth chattered s with cold,
He saw no leaf-shapes on the floor,
    He heard no bell ring four.

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“To-night with head on chapel stone,
I prayed to Him who did atone,
Till blood-sweat ran, as down His face
    It ran in garden-place.

“’Tis done, the earthly fight is o’er,

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My soul is dark for evermore,
I am the fiend’s, hark! hear him call—
    He holds a soul in thrall.

“I know not if the spirit breath,
Meets spirit on the road of death,

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Or falleth like a thin, white thread
    Among the under dead.

“I know not whether, passing by,
One rapid moment, he and I,
His face upturned to coming crown,

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    Mine anguished, bending down,

“Shall then know all; but boy, when near
Thy feet approach where tier on tier,
God's minstrels face the Trinity,
    In that place made for me,

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“But mine no longer, seek thou there
One with thine eyes and golden hair,
Gold as his broidered vesture is,
    And say whose soul won his.

“Perchance, though there no sorrow dims,

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The tears will mount to his eyes’ brims,
And I shall live, his sweetest thought,
    For what my love hath wrought.

“Again the demon calls, I come.
See, pure boy, let thy lips be dumb,

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One last atonement lifts to-night
    A lost soul into light.”

He kissed the boy upon the brow:
“Yea, very like to him art thou,
When we sat pure on mother’s knee,

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    Farewell, eternally.”

The Abbot passed into the gloom,
The moonlight flooded all the room,
The boy sat stark from hour to hour,
    Chained by unearthly power.

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But lo, when, in the matin time,
The bells rang out the hour of prime,
From cloistered aisle and chapel stair
    A wild cry rent the air.

Not yet quite cold, dead in his blood,

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With face averted from the Rood,
The Abbot lay on chapel stone,
    His eyes still woe-begone.

No bell was rung, no mass was said,
They buried the dishonoured dead

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Out in the road which crossed the wood,
    In dark and solitude.

They marked the spot with never a stone,
Tree-shadows fell on it alone,
And moss and vines and thin wood grass

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    Grew where no feet would pass.

Nathless, it seemed to one fair boy,
The birds did sing with fuller joy,
And angels swung wood incense faint,
    As round the grave of saint.

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The tiny altar-lamp burnt dim,
And lit the sculptured seraphim,
And tombs where monks in garment cere
    Were gathered year by year.

But when an old monk came to die,

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He spake thus to those standing by:
“Out in that spot my grave be set,
    Marked by wood violet.

“No man can judge another’s sin,
God only sees without and in,

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Wherefore, my brethren, be ye kind,
    That was our Master’s mind.

“For many are crowned as saints by God
Whose graves unheeding feet have trod;
Man judges by the outer life,

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    God by the inner strife.

“Out there the forest tree-roots creep
Round one sad heart’s forgotten sleep,
A heart which broke in giving all
    To save a soul from thrall.”

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