The Single Bulb
In the gardens monastic were both herbs of the culinary kind
And those that healed the afflictions of this world,
Both rosemary and rue.
A poor man passed who had some bulbs to sell so that he might feed his family.
It was allowed that flowers could adorn the altar,
For had not the Lord made the lilies of the field.
These bulbs flourished under the hand of Brother Jacob.
Their stems soared skyward, revealing the pristine beauty of the Himalayan snows.
Except for one.
Its shoot grew twisted as though smitten by blight.
Brother Jacob brought the wooden barrow laden.
His fork worked in the richest composts,
Even such as are brought down from the royal stables.
The plant collapsed and squirmed in the rich soil,
As though seeking to hide itself and perish.
Its leaves turned sere and brown.
In due season the other blooms were cut and arranged in their splendour
To enhance the praise of God.
In his frustration the gardener berated the sickly growth as though it had ears.
He paced the garden fuming.
‘Do you deny the love of God? ’ he called.
‘Do you reject Him who made you? ’
The curtains of a weeping spruce stirred in a breeze.
The hanging branchlets moved as though plucked by a celestial harpist,
And their music was the silence of stillness.
Jacob turned away, his heart full of sadness,
For he was sure that the plant must now perish unfulfilled.
The weeds grew thick and strong in the enriched soil,
Crushing the last yearnings of the bulb to reach the light.
Time came when the summer baked that patch.
Those weeds died in the desiccated soil.
The bulb’s shoot was left withered and dead.
It chanced that one morning the tillage enclosed within the cloisters became bedecked with the finest lace.
The sun rose and droplets of dew sparkled as a million diamonds.
There was a stirring in the soil, a re-awakening.
That day the poor man came by with his scanty offerings and the friars accosted him.
‘Now, my man, ’ they said. ‘What do you offer as recompense,
For one of your bulbs has failed to bear even a single flower? '
‘Sirs, ’ he answered, ‘I am poor. Do you expect that all I sell you should be gold?
I tell you, that rare specimen is worth a thousand of the rest.’
Brother Jacob understood what he was saying, for he had heard the sound of the harp. Therefore he drew from his belt a gold coin,
Which was all that he had,
And he gave it to the man.
The others protested, ‘What do you do? He will only waste it on drink.’
Thereupon Jacob drew them aside and they followed him into the cloister.
‘Without this one bulb, nothing else can flower, ’ he declared.
‘Let us see what it has done.’
The dew had dampened the soil and the air was fresh.
Flower heads rose from the earth, all of the deepest hues,
The richest colours known to the rainbow.
They were not those glorious trumpets that grace the pomp of pulpits,
Nor were they those golden garlands that brighten the beauty of a woman.
Their beauty came from another world.
A hidden light glowed within, a personal dream, an idealisation from one’s soul.
Ruin has come to that monastery,
But that bulb is still there,
In some forgotten sanctuary.
It hides itself.
It does not flower
Untended it survives,
Yet should it fail...
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Poet's Notes about The Poem
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