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John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892). The Poetical Works in Four Volumes. 1892.

Narrative and Legendary Poems

St. Gregory’s Guest

A TALE for Roman guides to tell

To careless, sight-worn travellers still,

Who pause beside the narrow cell

Of Gregory on the Cælian Hill.

One day before the monk’s door came

A beggar, stretching empty palms,

Fainting and fast-sick, in the name

Of the Most Holy asking alms.

And the monk answered, “All I have

In this poor cell of mine I give,

The silver cup my mother gave;

In Christ’s name take thou it, and live.”

Years passed; and, called at last to bear

The pastoral crook and keys of Rome,

The poor monk, in Saint Peter’s chair,

Sat the crowned lord of Christendom.

“Prepare a feast,” Saint Gregory cried,

“And let twelve beggars sit thereat.”

The beggars came, and one beside,

An unknown stranger, with them sat.

“I asked thee not,” the Pontiff spake,

“O stranger; but if need be thine,

I bid thee welcome, for the sake

Of Him who is thy Lord and mine.”

A grave, calm face the stranger raised,

Like His who on Gennesaret trod,

Or His on whom the Chaldeans gazed,

Whose form was as the Son of God.

“Know’st thou,” he said, “thy gift of old?”

And in the hand he lifted up

The Pontiff marvelled to behold

Once more his mother’s silver cup.

“Thy prayers and alms have risen, and bloom

Sweetly among the flowers of heaven.

I am The Wonderful, through whom

Whate’er thou askest shall be given.”

He spake and vanished. Gregory fell

With his twelve guests in mute accord

Prone on their faces, knowing well

Their eyes of flesh had seen the Lord.

The old-time legend is not vain;

Nor vain thy art, Verona’s Paul,

Telling it o’er and o’er again

On gray Vicenza’s frescoed wall.

Still wheresoever pity shares

Its bread with sorrow, want, and sin,

And love the beggar’s feast prepares,

The uninvited Guest comes in.

Unheard, because our ears are dull,

Unseen, because our eyes are dim,

He walks our earth, The Wonderful,

And all good deeds are done to Him.