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- The Legends of Saint Patrick - 20/30 -

Fair is it, and as meet to clasp a church As is a true heart in a virgin breast To clasp the Faith of Christ. The hinds around Name it 'the beauteous meadow.'" "Fair it is," The angel answered, "nor shall lack its crown. Another's is its beauty. Here, one day A pilgrim from the Britons sent shall build, And, later, what he builds shall pass to thine; But thou to Macha get thee."

Patrick then, Obedient as that Patriarch Sire who faced At God's command the desert, northward went In holy silence. Soon to him was lost That green and purple meadow-sea, embayed 'Twixt two descending woody promontories, Its outlet girt with isles of rock, its shores Cream-white with meadow-sweet. Not once he turned, Climbing the uplands rough, or crossing streams Swoll'n by the melted snows. The Brethren paced Behind; Benignus first, his psalmist; next Secknall, his bishop; next his brehon Erc; Mochta, his priest; and Sinell of the Bells; Rodan, his shepherd; Essa, Bite, and Tassach, Workers of might in iron and in stone, God-taught to build the churches of the Faith With wisdom and with heart-delighting craft; Mac Cairthen last, the giant meek that oft On shoulders broad bare Patrick through the floods: His rest was nigh. That hour they crossed a stream; 'Twas deep, and, 'neath his load, the giant sighed. Saint Patrick said, "Thou wert not wont to sigh!" He answered, "Old I grow. Of them my mates How many hast thou left in churches housed Wherein they rule and rest!" The Saint replied, "Thee also will I leave within a church For rule and rest; not to mine own too near For rarely then should we be seen apart, Nor yet remote, lest we should meet no more." At Clochar soon he placed him. There, long years Mac Cairthen sat, its bishop.

As they went, Oft through the woodlands rang the battle-shout; And twice there rose above the distant hill The smoke of hamlet fired. Yet, none the less, Spring-touched, the blackbird sang; the cowslip changed Green lawn to green and golden; and grey rock And river's marge with primroses were starred; Here shook the windflower; there the blue-bells gleamed, As though a patch of sky had fallen on earth.

Then to Benignus spake the Saint: "My son, If grief were lawful in a world redeemed The blood-stains on a land so strong in faith, So slack in love, might cloud the holiest brow, Yea, his whose head lay on the breast of Christ. Clan wars with clan: no injury is forgiven; Like to the joy in stag-hunts is the war: Alas! for such what hope!" Benignus answered "O Father, cease not for this race to hope, Lest they should hope no longer! Hope they have; Still say they, 'God will snare us in the end Though wild.'" And Patrick, "Spirits twain are theirs: The stranger, and the poor, at every door They meet, and bid him in. The youngest child Officious is in service; maids prepare The bath; men brim the wine-cup. Then, forth borne, Cities they fire and rich in spoil depart, Greed mixed with rage--an industry of blood!" He spake, and thus the younger made reply: "Father, the stranger is the brother-man To them; the poor is neighbour. Septs remote To them are alien worlds. They know not yet That rival clans are men."

"That know they shall," Patrick made answer, "when a race far off Tramples their race to clay! God sends abroad His plague of war that men on earth may know Brother from foe, and anguish work remorse." He spake, and after musings added thus: "Base of God's kingdom is Humility - I have not spared to thunder o'er their pride; Great kings have I rebuked and signs sent forth, And banned for their sake fruitful plain, and bay; Yet still the widow's cry is on the air, The orphan's wail!" Benignus answered mild, "O Father, not alone with sign and ban Hast thou rebuked their madness. Oftener far Thy sweetness hath reproved them. Once in woods Northward of Tara as we tracked our way Round us there gathered slaves who felled the pines For ship-masts. Scarred their hands, and red with blood, Because their master, Trian, thus had sworn, 'Let no man sharpen axe!' Upon those hands Gazing, they wept soon as thy voice they heard, Because that voice was soft. Thou heard'st their tale; Straight to that chieftain's castle went'st thou up, And bound'st him with thy fast, beside his gate Sitting in silence till his heart should melt; And since he willed it not to melt, he died. Then, in her arms two babes, came forth the queen Black-robed, and freed her slaves, and gave them hire; And, we returning after many years, Filled was that wood with homesteads; plots of corn Rustled around them; here were orchards; there In trench or tank they steeped the bright blue flax; The saw-mill turned to use the wanton brook; Murmured the bee-hive; murmured household wheel; Soft eyes looked o'er it through the dusk; at work The labourers carolled; matrons glad and maids Bare us the pail head-steadied, children flowers: Last, from her castle paced the queen, and led In either hand her sons whom thou hadst blest, Thenceforth to stand thy priests. The land believed; And not through ban, or word, sharp-edged or soft, But silence and thy fast the ill custom died."

He answered, "Christ, in Christ-like life expressed, This, this, not words, subdues a land to Christ; And in this best Apostolate all have part. Ah me! that flower thou hold'st is strong to preach Creative Love, because itself is lovely; But we, the heralds of Redeeming Love, Because we are unlovely in our lives, Preach to deaf ears! Yet theirs, theirs too, the sin." Benignus made reply: "The race is old; Not less their hearts are young. Have patience with them! For see, in spring the grave old oaks push forth Impatient sprays, wine-red: their strength matured, These sober down to verdure." Patrick paused, Then, brooding, spake, as one who thinks, not speaks: "A priest there walked with me ten years and more; Warrior in youth was he. One day we heard The shock of warring clans--I hear it still: Within him, as in darkening vase you note The ascending wine, I watched the passion mount: - Sudden he dashed him down into the fight, Nor e'er to Christ returned." Benignus answered; "I saw above a dusky forest roof The glad spring run, leaving a track sea-green: Not straight she ran; and yet she reached her goal: Later I saw above green copse of thorn The glad spring run, leaving a track foam-white: Not straight she ran; yet soon she conquered all! O Father, is it sinful to be glad Here amid sin and sorrow? Joy is strong, Strongest in spring-tide! Mourners I have known That, homeward wending from the new-dug grave, Against their will, where sang the happy birds Have felt the aggressive gladness stir their hearts, And smiled amid their tears." So babbled he, Shamed at his spring-tide raptures.

As they went, Far on their left there stretched a mighty land Of forest-girdled hills, mother of streams: Beyond it sank the day; while round the west Like giants thronged the great cloud-phantoms towered. Advancing, din they heard, and found in woods A hamlet and a field by war unscathed, And boys on all sides running. Placid sat The village Elders; neither lacked that hour The harp that gently tranquillises age, Yet wakes young hearts with musical unrest, Forerunner oft of love's unrest. Ere long The measure changed to livelier: maid with maid Danced 'mid the dancing shadows of the trees, And youth with youth; till now, the strangers near, Those Elders welcomed them with act benign; And soon was slain the fatted kid, and soon The lamb; nor any asked till hunger's rage Was quelled, "Who art thou?" Patrick made reply, "A Priest of God." Then prayed they, "Offer thou To Him our sacrifice! Belike 'tis He Who saves from war this hamlet hid in woods: Unblest be he who finds it!" Thus they spake, The matrons, not the youths. In friendly talk The hours went by with laughter winged and tale; But when the moon, on rolling through the heavens, Showered through the leaves a dew of sprinkled light O'er the dark ground, the maidens garments brought Woven in their quiet homes when nights were long, Red cloak and kirtle green, and laid them soft, Still with the wearers' blameless beauty warm, For coverlet upon the warm dry grass, Honouring the stranger guests. For these they deemed Their low-roofed cots too mean. Glad-hearted rose The Christian hymn, not timid: far it rang Above the woods. Ere long, their blissful rites Fulfilled, the wanderers laid them down and slept.

At midnight by the side of Patrick stood Victor, God's Angel, saying, "Lo! thy work Hath favour found and thou ere long shalt die: Thus therefore saith the Lord, 'So long as sea Girdeth this isle, so long thy name shall hang In splendour o'er it, like the stars of God.'" Then Patrick said, "A boon! I crave a boon!"

The Legends of Saint Patrick - 20/30

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