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

Narrative and Legendary Poems

The Gift of Tritemius

TRITEMIUS of Herbipolis, one day,

While kneeling at the altar’s foot to pray,

Alone with God, as was his pious choice,

Heard from without a miserable voice,

A sound which seemed of all sad things to tell,

As of a lost soul crying out of hell.

Thereat the Abbot paused; the chain whereby

His thoughts went upward broken by that cry;

And, looking from the casement, saw below

A wretched woman, with gray hair a-flow,

And withered hands held up to him, who cried

For alms as one who might not be denied.

She cried, “For the dear love of Him who gave

His life for ours, my child from bondage save,—

My beautiful, brave first-born, chained with slaves

In the Moor’s galley, where the sun-smit waves

Lap the white walls of Tunis!”—“What I can

I give,” Tritemius said, “my prayers.”—“O man

Of God!” she cried, for grief had made her bold,

“Mock me not thus; I ask not prayers, but gold.

Words will not serve me, alms alone suffice;

Even while I speak perchance my first-born dies.”

“Woman!” Tritemius answered, “from our door

None go unfed, hence are we always poor;

A single soldo is our only store.

Thou hast our prayers;—what can we give thee more?”

“Give me,” she said, “the silver candlesticks

On either side of the great crucifix.

God well may spare them on His errands sped,

Or He can give you golden ones instead.”

Then spake Tritemius, “Even as thy word,

Woman, so be it! (Our most gracious Lord,

Who loveth mercy more than sacrifice,

Pardon me if a human soul I prize

Above the gifts upon his altar piled!)

Take what thou askest, and redeem thy child.”

But his hand trembled as the holy alms

He placed within the beggar’s eager palms;

And as she vanished down the linden shade,

He bowed his head and for forgiveness prayed.

So the day passed, and when the twilight came

He woke to find the chapel all aflame,

And, dumb with grateful wonder, to behold

Upon the altar candlesticks of gold!