St. Telemachus


Had the fierce ashes of some fiery peak
Been hurl’d so high they ranged about the globe?
For day by day, thro’ many a blood-red eve,
In that four-hundredth summer after Christ,
The wrathful sunset glared against a cross
Rear’d on the tumbled ruins of an old fane
No longer sacred to the Sun, and flamed
On one huge slope beyond, where in his cave
The man, whose pious hand had built the cross,
A man who never changed a word with men,
Fasted and pray’d, Telemachus the Saint.
Eve after eve that haggard anchorite
Would haunt the desolated fane, and there
Gaze at the ruin, often mutter low
‘Vicisti Galilæe’; louder again,
Spurning a shatter’d fragment of the God,
‘Vicisti Galilæe!’ but—when now
Bathed in that lurid crimson—ask’d ‘Is earth
On fire to the West? or is the Demon-god
Wroth at his fall?’ and heard an answer ‘Wake
Thou deedless dreamer, lazying out a life
Of self-suppression, not of selfless love.’
And once a flight of shadowy fighters crost
The disk, and once, he thought, a shape with wings
Came sweeping by him, and pointed to the West,
And at his ear he heard a whisper ‘Rome’
And in his heart he cried ‘ The call of God!’
And call’d arose, and, slowly plunging down
Thro’ that disastrous glory, set his face
By waste and field and town of alien tongue,
Following a hundred sunsets, and the sphere
Of westward-wheeling stars; and every dawn
Struck from him his own shadow on to Rome.
Foot-sore, way-worn, at length he touch’d his goal,
The Christian city. All her splendour fail’d
To lure those eyes that only yearn’d to see,
Fleeting betwixt her column’d palace-walls,
The shape with wings. Anon there past a crowd
With shameless laughter, Pagan oath, and jest,
Hard Romans brawling of their monstrous games;
He, all but deaf thro’ age and weariness,
And muttering to himself ‘The call of God’
And borne along by that full stream of men,
Like some old wreck on some indrawing sea,
Gain’d their huge Colosseum. The caged beast
Yell’d, as he yell’d of yore for Christian blood.
Three slaves were trailing a dead lion away,
One, a dead man. He stumbled in, and sat
Blinded; but when the momentary gloom,
Made by the noonday blaze without, had left
His aged eyes, he raised them, and beheld
A blood-red awning waver overhead,
The dust send up a steam of human blood,
The gladiators moving toward their fight,
And eighty thousand Christian faces watch
Man murder man. A sudden strength from heaven,
As some great shock may wake a palsied limb,
Turn’d him again to boy, for up he sprang,
And glided lightly down the stairs, and o’er
The barrier that divided beast from man
Slipt, and ran on, and flung himself between
The gladiatorial swords, and call’d ‘Forbear
In the great name of Him who died for men,
Christ Jesus!’ For one moment afterward
A silence follow’d as of death, and then
A hiss as from a wilderness of snakes,
Then one deep roar as of a breaking sea,
And then a shower of stones that stoned him dead,
And then once more a silence as of death.
His dream became a deed that woke the world,
For while the frantic rabble in half-amaze
Stared at him dead, thro’ all the nobler hearts
In that vast Oval ran a shudder of shame.
The Baths, the Forum gabbled of his death,
And preachers linger’d o’er his dying words,
Which would not die, but echo’d on to reach
Honorius, till he heard them, and decreed
That Rome no more should wallow in this old lust
Of Paganism, and make her festal hour
Dark with the blood of man who murder’d man.


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