The Strange Preacher Of Padua
by Theodore Tilton
A paduan Minorite lay deathly sick,
O God! if I should die to-day
(Who thought to preach to-morrow), send a monk
With grace from heaven to pluck the church from hell!
Next day at matins, while a thousand eyes
Were gazing at a shaft of fluted stone,
To which (as when a swallow builds her nest
Against a beam) the pulpit clung, uprose a monk,
The holy friar whose face ye seek
Hath left his corpse outstretched upon his bed,
And upward mounted to his crown in heaven!
Be warned, O Paduans! turn and flee from hell!
As if he then had hurled a shaft of fire,
He stung their cheeks to scarlet, like their sin.
In anguish for their souls, some knelt and prayed;
Some uttered groans; some faded ghostly white.
Eachl sinner felt an earthquake in his breast.
And when at last the monk intoned the creed,
The choir were thick of throat -- too choked to sing;
The organ blew no breath through any pipe
The player's hands could only prop his brows.
Then walked the stricken people from the church,
As mourners mutely scatter friom a tomb.
The preacher, with two friars, strolled out beyond
The city's gate -- their bare feet in the grass,
Their bare heads shaded by the orange trees,
Their voices answering to the lark's with song.
Behind them followed -- staggering, panting, pale,
Scarce half alive -- the priest they left for dead:
Who, having learned the marvel of the day,
Sprang out of bed, made chase to catch the monk,
Espied a club-foot underneath his gown,
And cried with voice that hushed their happy hymns,
O friends bewitched! I swear by Heaven above,
This preacher is the Devil from below!
With mildewed spots and warts, the preacher's face
Turned to a toad's -- then changed and seemed a monk's.
The brethren stared to see two human shapes -
One risen out of death, one out of hell!
O enemy of God! exclaimed the friar,
Before I strike thee with this crucifix, The Devil quailed,
Give answer why thou chidest men from hell,
Since thou wouldst lure them in?
I warn men of their sins that when,
Once warned, they sin again (as straight they do),
Their double guilt shall bring them double doom;
For at the judgment I shall say, O Judge!
The souls that charged their fall to trick of mine
Speak shameless lies; -- for, tempting not, I warned;
And, snaring not, I pointed out the snare;
And, seeing them upon the burning brink,
With tears I bade them back; -- yet down they plunged!
Condemn them now to me, and to the flame!
So saying, as a diver cleaves the sea,
He, diving, cleft the earth, and sank to hell.
With hands uplifted toward the city's walls,
O Padua! cried the friar,
what tears these eyes
Have wasted, weeping for your souls not saved!
Uprose he then sublime of stature, clenched
His hands, gave up the ghost, and fell a stone!
All Padua, when it heard the tale, stood dumb.
No man but vowed to live a whiter life!
O fickle human heart! Thy brittle vows
Are dashed to pieces on thy stony self!
The sinners sinned afresh! The Devil went
Not back to St. Antonio's church! No need!
For St. Antonio's church went back to him!
Source:The Sexton's Tale, And Other Poems.
Sheldon And Company, New York.