Read HOW SAINT CUTHBERT KEPT HIS PENTECOST AT CARLISLE of Legends of the Saxon Saints , free online book, by Aubrey de Vere, on ReadCentral.com.

Saint Cuthbert while a boy wanders among the woods of Northumbria, bringing solace to all. Later he lives alone in the island of Farne. Being made bishop, many predict that he will be able neither to teach his people nor to rule his diocese. His people flock to him gladly, but require that he should teach them by parable and tale. This he does, and likewise rules his diocese with might. He discourses concerning common life. Keeping his Pentecost at Carlisle, he preaches on that Feast and the Resurrection from the Dead. Herbert, an eremite, beseeching him that the two may die the same day, he prays accordingly, and they die the same hour.

Saint Cuthbert, yet a youth, for many a year
Walked up and down the green Northumbrian vales
Well loving God and man. The rockiest glens
And promontories shadowing loneliest seas,
Where lived the men least cared for, most forlorn,
He sought, and brought to each the words of peace.
Where’er he went he preached that God all Love;
For, as the sun in heaven, so flamed in him
That love which later fired Assisi’s Saint:
Yea, rumour ran that every mountain beast
Obeyed his loving call; that when all night
He knelt upon the frosty hills in prayer,
The hare would couch her by his naked feet
And warm them with her fur. To manhood grown,
He dwelt in Lindisfarne; there, year by year,
Prospering yet more in vigil and in fast;
And paced its shores by night, and blent his hymns
With din of waves. Yet ofttimes o’er the strait
He passed, once more in search of suffering men,
Wafting them solace still. Where’er he went,
Those loved as children first, again he loved
As youth and maid, and in them nursed that Faith
Through which pure youth passes o’er passion’s waves,
Like Him Who trod that Galilean sea:
He clasped the grey-grown sinner in his arms,
And won from him repentance long delayed,
Then with him shared the penance he enjoined.
O heart both strong and tender! offering Mass,
Awe-struck he stood as though on Calvary’s height:
The men who marked him shook.
Twelve winters passed:
Then mandate fell upon the Saint from God,
Or breathed upon him from the heavenly height,
Or haply from within. It drave him forth
A hermit into solitudes more stern.
‘Farewell,’ he said, ’my brethren and my friends!
No holier life than yours, pure Coenobites
Pacing one cloister, sharing one spare meal,
Chanting to God one hymn! yet I must forth
Farewell, my friends, farewell!’ On him they gazed,
And knew that God had spoken to his soul,
And silent stood, though sorrowing.
Long that eve,
The brethren grieved, noting his vacant stall,
Yet thus excused their sadness: ’Well for him,
And high his place in heaven; but woe to those
Henceforth of services like his amerced!
Here lived he in the world; here many throng;
To him in time some lesser bishopric
Might well have fallen, behoof of countless souls!
Such dream is past forever!’
Forth he fared
To Farne, a little rocky islet nigh,
Where man till then had never dared to dwell,
By dreadful rumours scared. In narrow cave
Worn from the rock, and roughly walled around,
The anchoret made abode, with lonely hands
Raising from one poor strip his daily food,
Barley thin-grown, and coarse. He saw by day
The clouds on-sailing, and by night the stars;
And heard the eternal waters. Thus recluse
The man lived on in vision still of God
Through contemplation known: and as the shades,
Each other chase all day o’er steadfast hills,
Even so, athwart that Vision unremoved,
Forever rushed the tumults of this world,
Man’s fleeting life, the rise and fall of states,
While changeless measured change; the spirit of prayer
Fanning that wondrous picture oft to flame
Until the glory grew insufferable.
Long years thus lived he. As the Apostle Paul,
Though raised in raptures to the heaven of heavens,
Not therefore loved his brethren less, but longed
To give his life his all for Israel’s sake,
So Cuthbert, loving God, loved man the more,
His wont of old. To him the mourners came,
And sinners bound by Satan. At his touch
Their chains fell from them light as summer dust:
Each word he spake was as a Sacrament
Clothed with God’s grace; beside his feet they sat,
And in their perfect mind; thence through the world
Bare their deliverer’s name.
So passed his life:
There old he grew, and older yet appeared,
By fasts outworn, though ever young at heart;
When lo! before that isle a barge there drew
Bearing the royal banner. Egfrid there
With regal sceptre sat, and many an earl,
And many a mitred bishop at his side.
Northumbria’s see was void: a council’s voice
Joined with a monarch’s called him to its throne:
In vain he wept, and knelt, and sued for grace:
Six months’ reprieve alone he won; then ruled
In Lindisfarne, chief Bishop of the North.
But certain spake who deemed that they were wise,
Fools all beside: ’Shall Cuthbert crosier lift?
A child, ’tis known he herded flocks for hire,
Housed in old Renspid’s hut, his Irish nurse,
Who told him tales of Leinster Kings, his sires,
And how her hands, their palace wrecked in war,
Had snatched him from its embers. Yet a boy
He rode to Melrose and its wondering monks,
A mimic warrior, in his hand a lance,
With shepherd youth for page, and spake: “’Tis known
Christ’s kingdom is a kingdom militant:
A son of Kings I come to guard His right
And battle ’gainst his foes!” For lance and sword
A book they gave him; and they made him monk:
Savage since then he couches on a rock,
As fame reports, with birds’ nests in his beard!
Can dreamers change to Bishops? Vision-dazed,
Move where he may, that slowly wandering eye
Will see in man no more than kites or hawks;
Men, if they note, will flee him.’ Thus they buzzed,
Self-praised, and knowing not that simpleness
Is sacred soil, and sown with royal seed,
The heroic seed and saintly.
Mitred once
Such gibes no more assailed him: one short month
Sufficed the petty cavil to confute;
One month well chronicled in book which verse
Late born, alas, in vain would emulate.
At once he called to mind the days that were;
His wanderings in Northumbrian glens; the hearths
That welcomed him so joyously; at once
Within his breast the heart parental yearned;
He longed to see his children, scattered wide
From Humber’s bank to Tweed, from sea to sea,
And cried to those around him: ’Let us forth,
And visit all my charge; and since Carlisle
Remotest sits upon its western bound,
Keep there this year our Pentecost!’ Next day
He passed the sands, left hard by ebbing tide,
His cross-bearer and brethren six in front,
And trod the mainland. Reverent, first he sought
His childhood’s nurse, and ’neath her humble roof
Abode one night. To Melrose next he fared
Honouring his master old.
Southward once more
Returning, scarce a bow-shot from the woods
There rode to him a mighty thane, one-eyed,
With warriors circled, on a jet-black horse,
Barbaric shape and huge, yet frank as fierce,
Who thus made boast: ’A Jute devout am I!
What raised that convent-pile on yonder rock?
This hand! I wrenched the hillside from a foe
By force, and gave it to thy Christian monks
To spite yet more those Angles! Island Saint,
Unprofitable have I found thy Faith!
Behold, those priests, thy thralls, are savage men,
Unrighteous, ruthless! For a sin of mine
They laid on me a hundred days of fast!
A man am I keen-witted: friend and liege
I summoned, shewed my wrong, and ended thus:
“Sirs, ye are ninety-nine, the hundredth I;
I counsel that we share this fast among us!
To-morrow from the dawn to evening’s star
No food as bulky as a spider’s tongue
Shall pass our lips; and thus in one day’s time
My hundred days of fast shall stand fulfilled.”
Wrathful they rose, and sware by Peter’s keys
That fight they would, albeit ’gainst Peter’s self;
But fast they would not save for personal sins.
Signal I made: then backward rolled the gates,
And, captured thus, they fasted without thanks,
Cancelling my debt a hundred days in one!
Beseech you, Father, chide your priests who breed
Contention thus ‘mid friends!’ The Saint replied,
’Penance is irksome, Thane: to ’scape its scourge
Ways are there various; and the easiest this,
Keep far from mortal sin.’
Where’er he faced,
The people round him pressed the sick, the blind,
Young mothers sad because a babe was pale;
Likewise the wives of fishers, praying loud
Their husbands’ safe return. Rejoiced he was
To see them, hear them, touch them; wearied never:
Whate’er they said delighted still he heard:
The rise and fall of empires touched him less,
The book rich-blazoned, or the high-towered church:
‘We have,’ he said, ’God’s children, and their God:
The rest is fancy’s work.’ Him too they loved;
Loved him the more because, so great and wise,
He stumbled oft in trifles. Once he said,
‘How well those pine-trees shield the lamb from wind!’
A smile ran round; at last the boldest spake,
‘Father, these are not pine-trees these are oaks.’
And Cuthbert answered, ’Oaks, good sooth, they are!
In youth I knew the twain apart: the pine
Wears on his head the Cross.’ Instruction next
He gave them, how the Cross had vanquished sin:
Then first abstruse to some appeared his words.
‘Father,’ they answered, ’speak in parables!
For pleasant is the tale, and, onward passed,
Keeps in our hearts thy lesson.’
While they spake,
A youth rich-vested tossed his head and cried:
’Father, why thus converse with untaught hinds?
Their life is but the life of gnats and flies:
They think but of the hour. Behold yon church!
I reared it both for reverence of thy Christ,
And likewise that through ages yet to come
My name might live in honour!’ At that word
Cuthbert made answer: ’Hear the parable!
My people craved for such.
A monk there lived
Holiest of men reputed. He was first
On winter mornings in the freezing stall;
Meekest when chidden; fervent most in prayer:
And, late in life, when hérésies arose,
That book he wrote, like tempest winged from God,
Drave them to darkness back. Grey-haired he died;
With honour was interred. The years went by;
His grave they opened. Peacefully he slept,
Unchanged, the smile of death upon his lips:
O’er the right hand alone, for so it seemed,
Had Death retained his power: five little lines,
White ashes, showed where once the fingers lay.
All saw it simple, learned, rich and poor:
None might divine the cause. That night, behold!
A Saintly Shape beside the abbot stood,
Bright like the sun except one lifted palm
Thereon there lay a stain. ‘Behold that hand!’
The Spirit spake, ’that, toiling twenty years,
Sent forth that book which pacified the world;
For it the world would canonise me Saint!
See that ye do it not! Inferior tasks
I wrought for God alone. Building that book
Too oft I mused, “Far years will give thee praise.”
I expiate that offence.’
Another day
A sweet-faced woman raised her voice, and cried,
’Father! those sins denounced by God I flee;
Yet tasks imposed by God too oft neglect:
Stands thus a soul imperilled?’ Cuthbert spake:
’Ye sued for parables; I speak in such,
Though ill, a language strange to me, and new.
There lived a man who shunned committed sin,
Yet daily by omission sinned and knew it:
In his own way, not God’s, he served his God;
And there was with him peace; yet not God’s peace.
So passed his youth. In age he dreamed a dream:
He dreamed that, being dead, he raised his eyes,
And saw a mountain range of frozen snows,
And heard, “Committed sins innumerable
Though each one small so small thou knewst them not
Uplifted, flake by flake as sin by sin,
Yon barrier ’twixt thy God and thee! Arise,
Remembering that of sins despair is worst:
Be strong, and scale it!” Fifty years he scaled
Those hills; so long it seemed. A cavern next
Entering, with mole-like hands he scooped his way,
And reached at last the gates of morn. Ah me!
A stone’s cast from him rose the Tree of Life:
He heard its sighs ecstatic: Full in view
The Beatific River rolled; beyond
All-glorious shone the City of the Saints
Clothed with God’s light! And yet from him that realm
Was severed by a gulf! Not wide that strait;
It seemed a strong man’s leap twice told no more;
But, as insuperably soared that cliff,
Unfathomably thus its sheer descent
Walled the abyss. Again he heard that Voice:
“Henceforth no place remains for active toils,
Penance for acts perverse. Inactive sloth
Through passive suffering meets its due. On earth
That sloth a nothing seemed; a nothing now
That chasm whose hollow bars thee from the Blest,
Poor slender film of insubstantial air.
Self-help is here denied thee; for that cause
A twofold term thou need’st of pain love-taught
To expiate Love that lacked.” That term complete
An angel caught him oer that severing gulf:
Thenceforth he saw his God.’
With such discourse
Progress, though slow and interrupted oft,
The Saint of God, by no delay perturbed,
Made daily through his sacred charge. One eve
He walked by pastures arched along the sea,
With many companied. The on-flowing breeze
Glazed the green hill-tops, bending still one way
The glossy grasses: limitless below
The ocean mirror, clipped by cape or point
With low trees inland leaning, lay like lakes
Flooding rich lowlands. Southward far, a rock
Touched by a rainy beam, emerged from mist,
And shone, half green, half gold. That rock was Farne:
Though strangers, those that kenned it guessed its name:
’Doubtless ‘twas there,’ they said, ‘our Saint abode!’
Then pressed around him, questioning: ’Rumour goes,
Father beloved, that in thine island home
Thou sat’st all day with hammer small in hand,
Shaping, from pebbles veined, miraculous beads
That save their wearers still from sword and lance:
Are these things true? ’Smiling the Saint replied:
’True, and not true! That isle in part is spread
With pebbles divers-fashioned, some like beads:
I gathered such, and gave to many a guest,
Adding, “Such beads shall count thy nightly prayers;
Pray well; then fear no peril!"’
Others came
And thus demanded: ’Rumour fills the world,
Father, that birds miraculous crowned thine isle,
And awe-struck let thee lift them in thy hand,
Though scared by all beside.’ Smiling once more
The Saint made answer, ’True, and yet not true!
Sea-birds elsewhere beheld not throng that isle;
A breed so loving and so firm in trust
That, yet unharmed by man, they flee not man;
Wondering they gaze; who wills may close upon them!
I signed a league betwixt that race and man,
Pledging the mariners who sought my cell
To reverence still that trust.’ He ended thus:
’My friends, ye seek me still for parables;
Seek them from Nature rather: here are two!
Those pebble-beads are words from Nature’s lips
Exhorting man to pray; those fearless birds
Teach him that trust to innocence belongs
By right divine, and more avails than craft
To shield us from the aggressor.’ Some were glad
Hearing that doctrine; others cried, ’Not so!
Our Saint all know it makes miraculous beads;
But, being humble, he conceals his might:’
And many an age, when slept that Saint in death,
Passing his isle by night the sailor heard
Saint Cuthbert’s hammer clinking on the rock;
And age by age men cried, ’Our Cuthbert’s birds
Revere the Saint’s command.’
While thus they spake
A horseman over moorlands near the Tweed
Made hasty way, and thus addressed the Saint:
’Father, Queen Ermenburga greets thee well,
And this her message: “Queen am I forlorn,
Long buffeted by many a storm of state,
And worn at heart besides; for in our house
Peace lived not inmate, but a summer guest;
And now, my lord, the King is slain in fight;
And changed the aspect now things wore of old:
Thou therefore, man of God, approach my gates
With counsel sage. This further I require;
Thy counsel must be worthy of a Queen,
Nor aught contain displeasing."’ Cuthbert spake:
’My charge requires my presence at Carlisle;
Beseech the Queen to meet me near its wall
On this day fortnight.’
Thitherwards thenceforth
Swiftlier he passed, while daily from the woods
The woodmen flocked, and shepherds from the hills,
Concourse still widening. These among there moved
A hermit meek as childhood, calm as eld,
Long years Saint Cuthbert’s friend. Recluse he lived
Within a woody isle of that fair lake
By Derwent lulled and Greta. Others thronged
Round Cuthbert’s steps; that hermit stood apart
With large dark eyes upon his countenance fixed,
And pale cheek dewed with tears. The name he bore
Was ‘Herbert of the Lake.’
Two weeks went by,
And Cuthbert reached his journey’s end. Next day
God sent once more His Feast of Pentecost
To gladden men; and all His Church on earth
Shone out, irradiate as by silver gleams
Flashed from her whiter Sister in the skies;
And every altar laughed, and every hearth;
And many a simple hind in spirit heard
The wind which through that ‘upper chamber’ swept
Careering through the universe of God,
New life through all things poured. Cuthbert that day,
Borne on by winged winds of rapturous thought,
Forth from Carlisle had fared alone, and reached
Ere long a mead tree-girded; in its midst
Swift-flowing Eden raced from fall to fall,
Showering at times her spray on flowers as fair
As graced that earlier Eden; flowers so light
Each feeblest breath impalpable to man
Now shook them and now swayed. Delighted eye
The Saint upon them fixed. Ere long he gazed
As glad on crowds thronging the river’s marge,
For now the high-walled city poured abroad
Her children rich and poor. At last he spake:
’Glory to Him Who made both flowers and souls!
He doeth all things well! A few weeks past
Yon river rushed by wintry banks forlorn;
What decks it thus to-day? The voice of Spring!
She called those flowers from darkness forth: she flashed
Her life into the snowy breast of each:
This day she sits enthroned on each and all:
The thrones are myriad; but the Enthroned is One!’
He paused; then, kindling, added thus: ’O friends!
’Tis thus with human souls through faith re-born:
One Spirit calls them forth from darkness; shapes
One Christ, in each conceived, its life of life;
One God finds rest enthroned on all. Once more
The thrones are many; but the Enthroned is One!’
Again he paused, and mused: again he spake:
’Yea, and in heaven itself, a hierarchy
There is that glories in the name of “Thrones:”
The high cherubic knowledge is not theirs;
Not theirs the fiery flight of Seraph’s love,
But all their restful beings they dilate
To make a single, myriad throne for God
Children, abide in unity and love!
So shall your lives be one long Pentecost,
Your hearts one throne for God!’
As thus he spake
A breeze, wide-wandering through the woodlands near,
Illumed their golden roofs, while louder sang
The birds on every bough. Then horns were heard
Resonant from stem to stem, from rock to rock,
While moved in sight a stately cavalcade
Flushing the river’s crystal. Of that host
Foremost and saddest Ermenburga rode,
A Queen sad-eyed, with large imperial front
By sorrow seamed: a lady rode close by;
Behind her earls and priests. Though proud to man
Her inborn greatness made her meek to God:
She signed the Saint to stay not his discourse,
And placed her at his feet.
His words were great:
He spake of Pentecost; no transient grace,
No fugitive act, consummated, then gone,
But God’s perpetual presence in that Church
O’er-shadowed still, like Mary, by His Spirit,
Fecundated in splendour by His Truth,
Made loving through His Love. The reign of Love
He showed, though perfected in Christ alone,
Not less co-eval with the race of man:
For what is man? Not mind: the beasts can think:
Not passions; appetites: the beasts have these:
Nay, but Affections ruled by Laws Divine:
These make the life of man. Of these he spake;
Proclaimed of these the glory. These to man
Are countless loves revealing Love Supreme:
These and the Virtues, warp and woof, enweave
A single robe that sacrificial garb
Worn from the first by man, whose every act
Of love in spirit was self-sacrifice,
And prophesied the Sacrifice Eterne:
Through these the world becomes one household vast;
Through these each hut swells to a universe
Traversed by stateliest energies wind-swift,
And planet-crowned, beneath their Maker’s eye.
All hail, Affections, angels of the earth!
Woe to that man who boasts of love to God,
And yet his neighbour scorns! While Cuthbert spake
A young man whispered to a priest, ’Is yon
That Anchoret of the rock? Where learned he then
This loving reverence for the hearth and home?
Mark too that glittering brow!’ The priest replied:
’What! shall a bridegroom’s face alone be bright?
He knows a better mystery! This he knows,
That, come what may, all o’er the earth forever
God keeps His blissful Bridal-feast with man:
Each true heart there is guest!’
Once more the Saint
Arose and spake: ’O loving friends, my children,
Christ’s sons, His flock committed to my charge!
I spake to you but now of humbler ties,
Not highest, with intent that ye might know
How pierced are earthly bonds by heavenly beam;
Yet, speaking with lame tongue in parables,
I shewed you but similitudes of things
Twilight, not day. Make question then who will;
So shall I mend my teaching.’
Prompt and bright
As children issuing forth to holyday,
Then flocked to Cuthbert’s school full many a man
Successive: each with simpleness of heart
His doubt propounded; each his question asked,
Or, careless who might hear, confessed his sins,
And absolution won. Among the rest,
A little seven years’ boy, with sweet, still face,
Yet strong not less, and sage, drew softly near,
His great calm eyes upon the patriarch fixed,
And silent stood. From Wessex came that boy:
By chance Northumbria’s guest. Meantime a chief
Demanded thus: ’Of all the works of might,
What task is worthiest?’ Cuthbert made reply:
’His who to land barbaric fearless fares,
And open flings God’s palace gate to all,
And cries “Come in!"’ That concourse thrilled for joy:
Alone that seven years’ child retained the word:
The rest forgat it. ‘Winifrede’ that day
Men called him; later centuries, ‘Boniface,’
Because he shunned the ill, and wrought the good:
In time the Teuton warriors knew that brow
Their great Apostle he: they knew that voice:
And happy Fulda venerates this day
Her martyr’s gravestone.
Next, to Cuthbert drew
Three maidens hand in hand, lovely as Truth,
Trustful, though shy: their thoughts, when hidden most,
Wore but a semilucid veil, as when
Through gold-touched crystal of the lime new-leaved
On April morns the symmetry looks forth
Of branch and bough distinct. Smiling, they put
At last their question: ’Tell us, man of God,
What life, of lives that women lead, is best;
Then show us forth in parables that life!’
He answered: ’Three; for each of these is best:
First comes the Maiden’s: she who lives it well
Serves God in marble chapel white as snow,
His priestess His alone. Cold flowers each morn
She culls ere sunrise by the stainless stream,
And lays them on that chapel’s altar-stone,
And sings her matins there. Her feet are swift
All day in labours ’mid the vales below,
Cheering sad hearts: each evening she returns
To that high fane, and there her vespers sings;
Then sleeps, and dreams of heaven.’
With witching smile
The youngest of that beauteous triad cried:
‘That life is sweetest! I would be that maid!’
Cuthbert resumed: ’The Christian Wife comes next:
She drinks a deeper draught of life: round her
In ampler sweep its sympathies extend:
An infant’s cry has knocked against her heart,
Evoking thence that human love wherein
Self-love hath least. Through infant eyes a spirit
Hath looked upon her, crying, “I am thine!
Creature from God dependent yet on thee!”
Thenceforth she knows how greatness blends with weakness;
Reverence, thenceforth, with pity linked, reveals
To her the pathos of the life of man,
A thing divine, and yet at every pore
Bleeding from crowned brows. A heart thus large
Hath room for many sorrows. What of that?
Its sorrow is its dowry’s noblest part.
She bears it not alone. Such griefs, so shared
Sickness, and fear, and vigils lone and long,
Waken her heart to love sublimer far
Than ecstasies of youth could comprehend;
Lift her perchance to heights serene as those
The Ascetic treadeth.’
‘I would be that wife!’
Thus cried the second of those maidens three:
Yet who that gazed upon her could have guessed
Creature so soft could bear a heart so brave?
She seemed that goodness which was beauteous too;
Virtue at once, and Virtue’s bright reward;
Delight that lifts, not lowers us; made for heaven;
Made too to change to heaven some brave man’s hearth.
She added thus: ’Of lives that women lead
Tell us the third!’
Gently the Saint replied:
’The third is Widowhood a wintry sound;
And yet, for her who widow is indeed,
That winter something keeps of autumn’s gold,
Something regains of Spring’s first flower snow-white,
Snow-cold, and colder for its rim of green.
She feels no more the warmly-greeting hand;
The eyes she brightened rest on her no more;
Her full-orbed being now is cleft in twain:
Her past is dead: daily from memory’s self
Dear things depart; yet still she is a wife,
A wife the more because of bridal bonds
Lives but their essence, waiting wings in heaven;
More wife; and yet, in that great loneliness,
More maiden too than when first maidenhood
Lacked what it missed not. Like that other maid
She too a lonely Priestess serves her God;
Yea, though her chapel be a funeral vault,
Its altar black like Death; the flowers thereon,
Tinct with the Blood Divine. Above that vault
She hears the anthems of the Spouse of Christ,
Widowed, like her, though Bride.’
’O fair, O sweet,
O beauteous lives all three; fair lot of women!’
Thus cried again the youngest of those Three,
Too young to know the touch of grief or cause it
A plant too lightly leaved to cast a shade.
The eldest with pale cheek, and lids tear-wet,
Made answer sad: ‘I would not be a widow.’
Then Cuthbert spake once more with smile benign:
I said that each of these three lives is best:
There are who live those three conjoined in one:
The nun thus lives! What maid is maid like her
Who, free to choose, has vowed a maidenhood
Secure ’gainst chance or choice? What bride like her
Whose Bridegroom is the spouse of vestal souls?
What widow lives in such austere retreat,
Such hourly thought of him she ne’er can join
Save through the gate of death? If those three lives
In separation lived are fair and sweet,
How show they, blent in one?’
Of those who heard
The most part gladdened; those who knew how high
Virtue, renouncing all besides for God,
Hath leave to soar on earth. Yet many sighed,
Jealous for happy homesteads. Cuthbert marked
That shame-faced sadness, and continued thus:
’To praise the nun reproaches not, O friends,
But praises best that life of hearth and home
At Cana blessed by Him who shared it not.
The uncloistered life is holy too, and oft
Through changeful years in soft succession links
Those three fair types of woman; holds, diffused,
That excellence severe which life detached
Sustains in concentration.’ Long he mused;
Then added thus: ’When last I roved these vales
There lived, not distant far, a blessed one
Revered by all: her name was Ethelreda:
I knew her long, and much from her I learned.
Beneath her Pagan father’s roof there sat
Ofttimes a Christian youth. With him the child
Walked, calling him “her friend.” He loved the maid:
Still young, he drew her to the fold of Christ;
Espoused her three years later; died in war
Ere three months passed. For her he never died!
Immortalised by faith that bond lived on;
And now close by, and now ’mid Saints of heaven
She saw her husband walk. She never wept;
That fire which lit her eye and flushed her cheek
Dried up, it seemed, her tears: the neighbours round
Called her “the lady of the happy marriage.”
She died long since, I doubt not.’ Forward stepped
A slight, pale maid, the daughter of a bard,
And answered thus: ‘Two months ago she died.’
Then Cuthbert: ’Tell me, maiden, of her death;
And see you be not chary of your words,
For well I loved that woman.’ Tears unfelt
Fast streaming down her pallid cheek, the maid
Replied yet often paused: ’A sad, sweet end!
A long night’s pain had left her living still:
I found her on the threshold of her door:
Her cheek was white; but, trembling round her lips,
And dimly o’er her countenance spread, there lay
Something that, held in check by feebleness,
Yet tended to a smile. A cloak tight-drawn
From the cold March wind screened her, save one hand
Stretched on her knee, that reached to where a beam,
Thin slip of watery sunshine, sunset’s last,
Slid through the branches. On that beam, methought,
Rested her eyes half-closed. It was not so:
For when I knelt, and kissed that hand ill-warmed,
Smiling she said: “The small, unwedded maid
Has missed her mark! You should have kissed the ring!
Full forty years upon a widowed hand
It holds its own. It takes its latest sunshine.”
She lived through all that night, and died while dawned
Through snows Saint Joseph’s morn.’
The Queen, with hand
Sudden and swift, brushed from her cheek a tear;
And many a sob from that thick-crowding host
Confessed what tenderest love can live in hearts
Defamed by fools as barbarous. Cuthbert sat
In silence long. Before his eyes she passed,
The maid, the wife, the widow, all in one;
With these, through these he saw once more the child,
Yea, saw the child’s smile on the lips of death,
That magic, mystic, smile! O heart of man,
What strange capacities of grief and joy
Are thine! How vain, how ruthless such, if given
For transient things alone! O life of man!
What wert thou but some laughing demon’s scoff,
If prelude only to the eternal grave!
’Deep cries to deep’ ay, but the deepest deep
Crying to summits of the mount of God
Drags forth for echo, ‘Immortality.’
It was the Death Divine that vanquished death!
Shorn of that Death Divine the Life Divine,
Albeit its feeblest tear had cleansed all worlds,
Cancelled all guilt, had failed to reach and sound
The deepest in man’s nature, Love and Grief,
Profoundest each when joined in penitent woe;
Failed thence to wake man’s hope. The loftiest light
Flashed from God’s Face on Reason’s orient verge
Answers that bird-cry from the Heart of man
Poor Heart that, darkling, kept so long its watch
The auspice of the dawn.
Like one inspired
The Saint arose, and raised his hands to God;
Then to his people turned with such discourse
As mocks the hand of scribe. No more he spake
In parables; adumbrated no more
‘Dimly as in a glass’ his doctrine high,
But placed it face to face before men’s eyes,
Essential Truth, God’s image, meet for man,
Himself God’s image. Worlds he showed them new,
Worlds countless as the stars that roof our night,
Fair fruitage of illimitable boughs,
Pushed from that Tree of Life from Calvary sprung
That over-tops and crowns the earth and man;
Preached the Resurgent, the Ascended God
Dispensing ‘gifts to men.’ The tongue he spake
Seemed Pentecostal grace of that high Feast
For all who heard, the simple and the sage,
Heard still a single language sounding forth
To all one Promise. From that careworn Queen,
Who doffed her crown, and placed it on the rock,
Murmuring, ‘Farewell forever, foolish gaud,’
To him the humblest hearer, all made vow
To live thenceforth for God. The form itself
Of each was changed to saintly and to sweet;
Each countenance beamed as though with rays cast down
From fiery tongues, or angel choirs unseen.
Thus like high gods on mountain-tops of joy
Those happy listeners sat. The body quelled
With all that body’s might usurped to cramp
Through ceaseless, yet unconscious, weight of sense
Conceptions spiritual, might more subtly skilled
Than lusts avowed, to sap the spirits life
In every soul its nobler Powers released
Stood up, no more a jarring crowd confused
Each trampling each and oft the worst supreme,
Not thus, but grade o’er grade, in order due,
And pomp hierarchical. Yet hand in hand,
Not severed, stood those Powers. To every Mind
That truth new learned was palpable and dear,
Not abstract nor remote, with cordial strength
Enclasped as by a heart; through every Heart
Serene affections swam ’mid seas of light,
Reason’s translucent empire without bound,
Fountained from God. Silent those listeners sat
Parleying in wordless thought. For them the world
Was lost and won; its sensuous aspects quenched;
Its heavenly import grasped. The erroneous Past
Lay like a shrivelled scroll before their feet;
And sweet as some immeasurable rose,
Expanding leaf on leaf, varying yet one,
The Everlasting Present round them glowed.
Dead was desire, and dead not less was fear
The fear of change of death.
An hour went by;
The sun declined: then rising from his seat,
Herbert, the anchoret of the lonely lake,
Made humble way to Cuthbert’s feet with suit:
’O Father, and O friend, thou saw’st me not;
Yet day by day thus far I tracked thy steps
At distance, for my betters leaving place,
The great and wise that round thee thronged; the young
Who ne’er till then had seen thy face; the old
Who saw it then, yet scarce again may see.
Father, a happier lot was mine, thou know’st,
Or had been save for sin of mine: each year
I sought thy cell, thy words of wisdom heard;
Yet still, alas! lived on like sensual men
Who yield their hearts to creatures fixing long
A foolish eye on gold-touched leaf, or flower
Not Him, the great Creator. Father and Friend,
The years run past. I crave one latest boon:
Grant that we two may die the self-same day!’
Then Cuthbert knelt, and prayed. At last he spake:
’Thy prayer is heard; the self-same day and hour
We two shall die.’
That promise was fulfilled;
For two years only on exterior tasks
God set His servant’s hands the man who ’sought
In all things rest,’ nor e’er had ceased from rest
Then when his task was heaviest. Two brief years
He roamed on foot his spiritual realm:
The simple still he taught: the sad he cheered:
Where’er he went he founded churches still,
And convents; yea, and, effort costlier far,
Spared not to scan defect with vigilant eye:
That eye the boldest called not ‘vision-dazed’;
That Saint he found no ‘dreamer:’ sloth or greed
’Scaped not his vengeance: scandals hid he not,
But dragged them into day, and smote them down:
Before his face he drave the hireling priest,
The bandit thane: unceasing cried, ’Ye kings,
Cease from your wars! Ye masters, loose your slaves!’
Two years sufficed; for all that earlier life
Had trained the Ascetic for those works of might
Beyond the attempt of all but boundless love,
And in him kept unspent the fire divine.
Never such Bishop walked till then the North,
Nor ever since, nor ever, centuries fled,
So lived in hearts of men. Two years gone by,
His strength decayed. He sought once more his cell
Sea-lulled; and lived alone with God; and saw
Once more, like lights that sweep the unmoving hills,
God’s providences girdling all the world,
With glory following glory. Tenderer-souled
Herbert meantime within his isle abode,
At midnight listening Derwent’s gladsome voice
Mingling with deep-toned Greta’s, ‘Mourner’ named;
Pacing, each day, the shore; now gazing glad
On gold-touched leaf, or bird that cut the mere,
Now grieved at wandering thoughts. For men he prayed;
And ever strove to raise his soul to God;
And God, Who venerates still the pure intent,
Forgat not his; and since his spirit and heart
Holy albeit, were in the Eyes Divine
Less ripe than Cuthbert’s for the Vision Blest,
Least faults perforce swelling where gifts are vast,
That God vouchsafed His servant sickness-pains
Virtue to perfect in a little space,
That both might pass to heaven the self-same hour.
It came: that sun which flushed the spray up-hurled
In cloud round Cuthbert’s eastern rock, while he
Within it dying chanted psalm on psalm,
Ere long enkindled Herbert’s western lake:
The splendour waxed; mountain to mountain laughed,
And, brightening, nearer drew, and, nearing, clasped
That heaven-dropp’d beauty in more strict embrace:
The cliffs successive caught their crowns of fire;
Blencathara last. Slowly that splendour waned;
And from the glooming gorge of Borrodale,
Her purple cowl shadowing her holy head
O’er the dim lake twilight with silent foot
Stepped like a spirit. Herbert from his bed
Of shingles watched that sunset till it died;
And at one moment from their distant isles
Those friends, by death united, passed to God.