Brother Bartholomew

by LOUISE IMOGEN GUINEY (1861-1920)

Brother Bartholomew, working time,
Would fall into musing and drop his tools;
Brother Bartholomew cared for rhyme
More than for theses of the schools;
For gain or losing, for weal or woe,
God made him a poet, long ago.

At matins he sat, the book on his knees.
And his thoughts were wandering far away;
The brotherhood chanted the litanies,
While he had no praying to do today;
Watching through archèd windows high
The birds that sailed o’er the morning sky.

At complin hour, in the chapel dim,
He went to his stall and knelt with the rest;
And oft, on the wings of the evening hymn,
Would his soul float out to the night’s fair breast,
And ever to him the starry host
Flamed bright as the tongues at Pentecost.

“A foolish rhymester and nothing more;
The idlest fellow a cell can hold;”
So judged the worthy Isidor,
Prior of ancient Nithiswold;
Yet pitiful, with dispraise content,
Signed not the culprit’s banishment.

Meanwhile Bartholomew went his way,
And patiently wrote in his sunny cell;
His pen fast traveled from day to day,
His books were covered, the walls as well.
“He were better a pious monk instead
Of a listless dawdler,” the prior said.

Bartholomew died, as mortals must;
His spirit went free from the cowlèd throng;
And after, they took from the dark and dust
Of shelves and corners many a song.
That cried from Britain to far Cathay
How a bard had risen—and passed away.

Wonderful verses! fair and fine,
Full of the old Greek loveliness;
The seer-like vision, half divine;
Pathos and merrriment in excess;
And every careful slanza told
Of love and of labour manifold.

The king came out and stood beside
Bartholomew’s taper-lighted bier,
And turning to his lords he sighed:
How worn and wearied doth he appear—
Our noble poet—now he is dead!”
“O tireless worker,” the prior said.

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