Menella Bute Smedley

The Brethren of Port Royal

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Upon St. Mary's night
Was met a holy band,
In prayer and fasting to unite
For their afflicted land;
The moon shone clear and pale
Upon the house of prayer,
And the solemn organ-tones did sail
Along the stedfast air.
Upon a kneeling crowd
That silver radiance shone,
With hearts upraised and faces bow'd
At God's eternal throne;
And strange was it to see,
As ye past their ranks along,
The difference and the unity
Of that assembled throng.
Some were in youth's first bloom,
And some in manhood's prime,
Some verging on the open tomb,
And waiting God's good time;
From ploughing summer's earth
Some to those walls were come,
And the high stamp of noble birth
Was on the brows of some.
But a holy band they were,—
One Lord, one faith, one heart,
A brotherhood of praise and prayer,
From the vain world apart:
Beneath war's iron rod
Their groaning land was cast;
But in simple toils, and serving God,
Their quiet days they past.
Hard must it be to bow
Beneath that stedfast chain,
Though no irrevocable vow
Their willing hearts restrain.
Seest thou yon kneeler there?
Ay, mark him well—the hand
Now clasp'd in penitential prayer
Once shook the knightly brand.
Does not that governed eye
Full many a story tell
Of struggle, strife, and victory,
Won in his narrow cell;
The world's vain lore unlearned,
Its vainer hopes unfelt?—
But, ah, how the warrior-heart hath burned
Beneath that iron belt!
Long, long he strove to lift
His spirit with the psalm,
Pleading and striving for the gift
Of patience, deep and calm;
But as upon the air
Those soaring accents float,
There blended with the voice of prayer
One distant trumpet-note.
Like to the purple gloom
Of storm-clouds on the sea,
When earth is silent as the tomb,
And heaven frowns terribly,
Was the darkness that o'erspread
That soldier-hermit's brow:
His eye is proud, his cheek is red—
He's all the warrior now!
Like to the sudden light
Upon those storm-clouds breaking,
When tempest rushes on the night,
And hurricanes are waking,
Was the spirit that returned
To his uplifted eye,—
A fire long stifled, but which burned
On its old hearth eagerly.
“Up, up!” he cried, “awake!
Gather for France—for France!
For cowl, and staff, and crosier, take
The helmet and the lance!
We see our country bleed,
We hear the trumpet's tone,
And how should we need a chief to lead?—
Our hearts shall lead us on!
Our joyous land of France,
Our lovely, our adored,
Shall she—advance, my friends, advance!—
I cannot speak the word.
This is a holy war,
Good angels on us smile;
Soldiers we were, and monks we are,
But Frenchmen all the while!
And our hands are now unbound,
And we all are knights once more,
And the old-forgotten cry shall sound,
‘God and De Sericour!’”
Their hearts took up that cry;
And, like a lion's roar,
The long aisles echo thunderingly,
“God and De Sericour!”
And the anthem died away,
And the sounds of prayer were lost:
The monks and the beadsmen, where are they?—
Ye see an armèd host!
An armèd host ye see;
For, swift as light or thought,
Some of its ancient panoply
Each eager hand hath caught.
Lances were glimmering then;
And, over silvery hair,
Upon the brows of aged men
The helmet sparkled fair;
But dimm'd with many a stain,
For the rust had eaten through them:
But the spirits were themselves again,
And how should man subdue them?
They march into the field,
De Sericour the first;
Oh, as his hand resumed the shield,
Seemed that his heart would burst!
Beneath the moon's pale lamp
War's business was begun,
And the quiet vale became a camp
Before the dawn of sun.
And the work of war went on,
There was hurrying to and fro,
The trumpet gave its cheering tone,
“Set forward on the foe!”
How were their spirits stirred,
All panting to begin!—
But lo, a calm, still voice is heard—
It warneth them of sin!
Of Christian love and hope,
Of their adopted law,
Forbidding strife with strife to cope,
It speaks in holy awe;
It calls them to submit
To that accustomed yoke,
And to weep that they rejected it,—
It was De Sacy spoke.
Mutely they hear the word,
And mutely all obey;
Cuirass, and lance, and helm, and sword,
At once are flung away;
And the noon-tide sun shines bright
Upon an altered scene,
The vale lies placid in its light
As it hath ever been!
Gone—like an April-gleam
When storms are gathering fast!
It is like waking from a dream!
That wondrous change hath past.
And the daily toils went on,
As if they ne'er had ceased,
And the organ with its stately tone
Gave answer to the priest.
Who first did from him cast
The weapon that he wore?
'Twas he whom man would name the last—
It was De Sericour!
His lofty head is bow'd
'Neath a heavier weight than years,
The eye that was so brightly proud
Is quench'd in sudden tears!
And penitence resumes
Her intermitted sway,
And swift forgetfulness entombs
The deeds of that bright day.
Ah, no! The thought can be
From the deep heart banish'd never;
'Twas the captive's glimpse of liberty,
Seen once and lost for ever!
Scorn we a heart like his,
At God's own footstool laid?
Forget not that of stuff like this
Martyrs and saints were made!
But our words are bold and free,
We judge, decide, condemn—
Ah, God forgive us!—what are we
That we should sentence them?

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Menella Bute Smedley