Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel

(1834-1894 / England)

Ballad Of The Dead Monk; Or, Brother Benedict - Poem by Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel

The monk upon the bier lies dead;
Seven tapers burn by him;
Robed brethren at the feet, the head,
Chaunt a low requiem.

Deep gloom involves the vaulted church,
Save where the moon's pale face
Shows through unbarred doors of the porch
A misty mountain grace.

He came, a knight of high degree,
His former life untold;
The noble proud served lowlily,
With thoughts that self-enfold.

Self-scourged in stony cells he prayed;
Himself did sore afflict:
Thorned sarks on delicate flesh he laid;
Men called him Benedict.

Or he would roam the lonely hills,
Where faintly floats the chime,
An eyrie the far cloister dwells
Upon the crag sublime.

The brother came in bygone years,
A wild-eyed penitent;
Now famed for vigil, fasting, tears,
The brethren o'er him bent.

They kissed the hands, they kissed the feet;
God dowers with gifts of healing
A saint so pure, for Earth unmeet,
Ripe for Heaven's revealing. . . .

. . . Yet under the monk's shadowy cowl,
On that carven countenance,
Do writhen anguish, and a scowl
Mate with heavenly trance?


In pace requiescat!
O solemn, dirgeful sound!
Fill pause in prayer for human soul,
Vast torrent-boom profound! . . .

. . . What ails the body on the bier?
What trouble shakes the dead?
All shrink aloof, heart-chilled with fear!
The corpse, eyes open, said:

'By the just judgment of the Lord,
I am damned! my spirit
For evil life now reaps reward,
Hell-fire my sins inherit.

'Mine own ill-deeds environ me,
Build dungeons of deep sorrow,
The live pit-walls laugh loud their glee,
Yesterday, now, to-morrow!

'Ye lambs my selfish pleasure stained,
Who once were virgin snow!
O burden not to be sustained!
Pity! I suffer so!

'Nay, look not with your dovelike eyes
On me, your murderer!
The death-shroud o'er my spirit lies,
Your blood streams over her.

'O'er lonely realms I wander far,
Following a marish-gleam;
Me ever the false elfin star
Eludes; I do but dream.

'O dreadful luring breasts and arms!
Witch banquets with no name!
Bondslave am I to baleful charms,
That feed on me like flame.

'By ruined shores I rove alone,
Dull rain, storm-beaten brine!
By cliff and cave heart-broken moan,
Low light on the sea-line,
Dim, desolate, like mine!

'Mine own unquenchable desire,
Ambition, lust, consumes,
Clothes me with a shirt of fire;
I mourn among the tombs.'

. . . The phantom words were like a wail
Of low wind in the vault;
Resuming, 'May your prayer prevail
To loose me from my fault!'

They prayed; less poignant grew the tone. . .
. . . He seemeth to converse
With one invisible, unknown,
Who lighteneth the curse.

A monk affirmed he saw and heard
A semblance in the air,
As of a child, pale, tattered, marred,
Of aspect little fair.

'Who art thou, dear?' saith the dead brother,
With accent marvelling;
'Not know me? left by mine own mother,
You found me wandering.

'In that black bitter night of snow;
So faint I scarce may move;
Food, shelter, clothes, were mine with you;
And more you gave me - love.

'You took me home, and by your side
Set in my rags and dirt,
You found me friends; I early died;
My father none shall hurt.

'Thou father of my heart, so dear!
I am but a poor child;
Yet I may use the Name they fear,
These, lurid, and defiled.

'Avaunt, foul torturers, in the Name
Of Him who died on cross!
Now will I lead thee from thy shame,
Although thou suffer loss.

'Fly with me where the healing streams
From bloomy hills descend;
Where leafy groves with birds and beams
Melodiously blend.'

The vision-gifted monk beheld
What men by him discerned not,
Whose eyes wide-wondering were held,
A rigid form that turned not.

Transfigured was the common boy,
The form grew radiant;
The face, a sunrise of deep joy,
Like Christ, the child of want.

Now one whom he hath injured most
Brings pardon of her love;
The weak twain were a mighty host,
And through great armies clove;
His own will heartened strove.

She came, the woman he did wound,
Lay weeping on his breast;
She loosed him, in the grave-clothes bound,
And lulled despair to rest.

Intent the straining senses drank
Looks, words, of soft repose,
And then poor eyelids gently sank,
As when Love's fingers close.

Each awed to his own cell hath gone;
Night folds the world in gloom;
The dead are sleeping still as stone;
So ends a tale of doom.

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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 22, 2010

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