Robert Southey

(1774 - 1843 / Bristol / England)

Henry The Hermit


It was a little island where he dwelt,
Or rather a lone rock, barren and bleak,
Short scanty herbage spotting with dark spots
Its gray stone surface. Never mariner
Approach'd that rude and uninviting coast,
Nor ever fisherman his lonely bark
Anchored beside its shore. It was a place
Befitting well a rigid anchoret,
Dead to the hopes, and vanities, and joys
And purposes of life; and he had dwelt
Many long years upon that lonely isle,
For in ripe manhood he abandoned arms,
Honours and friends and country and the world,
And had grown old in solitude. That isle
Some solitary man in other times
Had made his dwelling-place; and Henry found
The little chapel that his toil had built
Now by the storms unroofed, his bed of leaves
Wind-scattered, and his grave o'ergrown with grass,
And thistles, whose white seeds winged in vain
Withered on rocks, or in the waves were lost.
So he repaired the chapel's ruined roof,
Clear'd the grey lichens from the altar-stone,
And underneath a rock that shelter'd him
From the sea blasts, he built his hermitage.

The peasants from the shore would bring him food
And beg his prayers; but human converse else
He knew not in that utter solitude,
Nor ever visited the haunts of men
Save when some sinful wretch on a sick bed
Implored his blessing and his aid in death.
That summons he delayed not to obey,
Tho' the night tempest or autumnal wind.
Maddened the waves, and tho' the mariner,
Albeit relying on his saintly load,
Grew pale to see the peril. So he lived
A most austere and self-denying man,
Till abstinence, and age, and watchfulness
Exhausted him, and it was pain at last
To rise at midnight from his bed of leaves
And bend his knees in prayer. Yet not the less
Tho' with reluctance of infirmity,
He rose at midnight from his bed of leaves
And bent his knees in prayer; but with more zeal
More self-condemning fervour rais'd his voice
For pardon for that sin, 'till that the sin
Repented was a joy like a good deed.

One night upon the shore his chapel bell
Was heard; the air was calm, and its far sounds
Over the water came distinct and loud.
Alarmed at that unusual hour to hear
Its toll irregular, a monk arose.
The boatmen bore him willingly across
For well the hermit Henry was beloved.
He hastened to the chapel, on a stone
Henry was sitting there, cold, stiff and dead,
The bell-rope in his band, and at his feet
The lamp that stream'd a long unsteady light

Submitted: Thursday, April 08, 2010

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