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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882). Complete Poetical Works. 1893.

Christus: A Mystery

Part II. The Golden Legend. IV. III. The Scriptorium

FRIAR PACIFICUS transcribing and illuminating.

IT is growing dark! Yet one line more,

And then my work for to-day is o’er.

I come again to the name of the Lord!

Ere I that awful name record,

That is spoken so lightly among men,

Let me pause awhile, and wash my pen;

Pure from blemish and blot must it be

When it writes that word of mystery!

Thus have I labored on and on,

Nearly through the Gospel of John.

Can it be that from the lips

Of this same gentle Evangelist,

That Christ himself perhaps has kissed,

Came the dread Apocalypse!

It has a very awful look,

As it stands there at the end of the book,

Like the sun in an eclipse.

Ah me! when I think of that vision divine,

Think of writing it, line by line,

I stand in awe of the terrible curse,

Like the trump of doom, in the closing verse!

God forgive me! if ever I

Take aught from the book of that Prophecy,

Lest my part too should be taken away

From the Book of Life on the Judgment Day.

This is well written, though I say it!

I should not be afraid to display it

In open day, on the selfsame shelf

With the writings of St. Thecla herself,

Or of Theodosius, who of old

Wrote the Gospels in letters of gold!

That goodly folio standing yonder,

Without a single blot or blunder,

Would not bear away the palm from mine,

If we should compare them line for line.

There, now, is an initial letter!

Saint Ulric himself never made a better!

Finished down to the leaf and the snail,

Down to the eyes on the peacock’s tail!

And now, as I turn the volume over,

And see what lies between cover and cover,

What treasures of art these pages hold,

All ablaze with crimson and gold,

God forgive me! I seem to feel

A certain satisfaction steal

Into my heart, and into my brain,

As if my talent had not lain

Wrapped in a napkin, and all in vain.

Yes, I might almost say to the Lord,

Here is a copy of thy Word,

Written out with much toil and pain;

Take it, O Lord, and let it be

As something I have done for thee!

He looks from the window.

How sweet the air is! How fair the scene!

I wish I had as lovely a green

To paint my landscapes and my leaves!

How the swallows twitter under the eaves!

There, now, there is one in her nest;

I can just catch a glimpse of her head and breast,

And will sketch her thus, in her quiet nook,

For the margin of my Gospel book.

He makes a sketch.

I can see no more. Through the valley yonder

A shower is passing; I hear the thunder

Mutter its curses in the air,

The devil’s own and only prayer!

The dusty road is brown with rain,

And, speeding on with might and main,

Hitherward rides a gallant train.

They do not parley, they cannot wait,

But hurry in at the convent gate.

What a fair lady! and beside her

What a handsome, graceful, noble rider!

Now she gives him her hand to alight;

They will beg a shelter for the night.

I will go down to the corridor,

And try to see that face once more;

It will do for the face of some beautiful Saint,

Or for one of the Maries I shall paint.

Goes out.