In Divers Tones

by Charles G.D. Roberts

Edited by Tracy Ware


 

CONCERNING CUTHBERT THE MONK


 

Cuthbert, open! Let me in!
  Cease your praying for a minute!
Here the darkness seems to grin,
  Holds a thousand horrors in it;
Down the stony corridor
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Footsteps pace the stony floor.

Here they foot it, pacing slow,
  Monk-like, one behind another!—
Don’t you hear me? Don’t you know
  I’m a little nervous, Brother?

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Won’t you speak? Then, by your leave,
Here’s a guest for Christmas Eve!

Shrive me, but I got a fright!
  Monks of centuries ago
Wander back to see to-night

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  How the old place looks.—Hello!
This the kind of watch you keep!
Come to pray—and go to sleep!

Ah, this mortal flesh is weak!
  Who is saintly there’s no saying.

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Here are tears upon his cheek,
  And he sleeps that should be praying;—
Sleeps, and dreams, and murmurs. Nay,
I’ll not wake you.—Sleep away!

Holy saints, the night is keen!

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  How the nipping wind does drive
Through yon tree-tops, bare and lean,
  Till their shadow seems alive,—
Patters through the bars, and falls,
Shivering, on the floors and walls!
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How yon patch of freezing sky
  Echoes back their bell-ringings!
Down in the gray city, nigh
  Severn, every steeple swings.
All the busy streets are bright.
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Many folk are out to-night.

—What’s that, Brother? Did you speak?—
  Christ save them that talk in sleep!
Smile they howsoever meek,
  Somewhat in their hearts they keep.

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We, good souls, what shifts we make
To keep talking whilst awake!

Christ be praised, that fetched me in
  Early, yet a youngling, while
All unlearned in life and sin,

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  Love and travail, grief and guile!
For your world of two-score years,
Cuthbert, all you have is tears.

Dreaming, still he hears the bells
  As he heard them years ago,

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Ere he sought our quiet cells
  Iron-mouthed and wrenched with woe,
Out of what dread storms who knows—
Faithfulest of friends and foes!

Faithful was he, aye, I ween,

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  Pitiful, and kind, and wise;
But in mindful moods I’ve seen
  Flame enough in those sunk eyes!
Praised be Christ, whose timely Hand
Plucked from out the fire this brand!
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Now in dreams he’s many miles
  Hence, he’s back in Ireland.
Ah, how tenderly he smiles,
  Stretching a caressing hand!
Backward now his memory glides
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To old, happy Christmas-tides.

Now once more a loving wife
  Holds him; now he sees his boys,
Smiles at all their playful strife,
  All their childish mirth and noise;

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Softly now she strokes his hair.—
Ah, their world is very fair!

—Waking, all your loss shall be
  Unforgotten evermore!
Sleep alone holds these for thee.

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  Sleep then, Brother!—To restore
All your heaven that has died
Heaven and Hell may be too wide!

Sleep, and dream, and be awhile
  Happy, Cuthbert, once again!

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Soon you’ll wake, and cease to smile,
  And your heart will sink with pain.
You will hear the merry town,—
And a weight will press you down.

Hungry-hearted, you will see

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  Only the thin shadows fall
From yon bleak-topped poplar tree,—
  Icy fingers on the wall.
You will watch them come and go,
Telling o’er your count of woe.
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—Nay, now, hear me, how I prate!
  I, a foolish monk, and old,
Maundering o’er a life and fate
  To me unknown, by you untold!
Yet I know you’re like to weep
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Soon, so, Brother, this night sleep.