There is a village in a southern land,
By rounded hills closed in on every hand.
The streets slope steeply to the market-square,
Long lines of white-washed houses, clean and fair,
With roofs irregular, and steps of stone
Ascending to the front of every one.
The people swarthy, idle, full of mirth,
Live mostly by the tillage of the earth.
Upon the northern hill-top, looking down,
Like some sequestered saint upon the town,
Stands the great convent.
On a summer night,
Ten years ago, the moon with rising light
Made all the convent towers as clear as day,
While still in deepest shade the village lay.
Both light and shadow with repose were filled,
The village sounds, the convent bells were stilled.
No foot in all the streets was now astir,
And in the convent none kept watch but her
Whom they called Ursula. The moonlight fell
Brightly around her in the lonely cell.
Her eyes were dark, and full of unshed woe,
Like mountain tarns which cannot overflow,
Surcharged with rain, and round about the eyes
Deep rings recorded sleepless nights, and cries
Stifled before their birth. Her brow was pale,
And like a marble temple in a vale
Of cypress trees, shone shadowed by her hair.
So still she was, that had you seen her there,
You might have thought you were beholding death.
Her lips were parted, but if any breath
Came from between them, it were hard to know
By any movement of her breast of snow.
But when the summer night was now far spent,
She kneeled upon the floor. Her head she leant
Down on the cold stone of the window-seat.
God knows if there were any vital heat
In those pale brows, or if they chilled the stone.
And as she knelt, she made a bitter moan,
With words that issued from a bitter soul, -
`O Mary, Mother, and is this thy goal,
Thy peace which waiteth for the world-worn heart?
Is it for this I live and die apart
From all that once I knew? O Holy God,
Is this the blessed chastening of Thy rod,
Which only wounds to heal? Is this the cross
That I must carry, counting all for loss
Which once was precious in the world to me?
If Thou be God, blot out my memory,
And let me come, forsaking all, to Thee.
But here, though that old world beholds me not,
Here, though I seek Thee through my lonely lot,
Here, though I fast, do penance day by day,
Kneel at Thy feet, and ever watch and pray,
Beloved forms from that forsaken world
Revisit me. The pale blue smoke is curled
Up from the dwellings of the sons of men.
I see it, and all my heart turns back again
From seeking Thee, to find the forms I love.
`Thou, with Thy saints abiding far above,
What canst Thou know of this, my earthly pain?
They said to me, Thou shalt be born again,
And learn that worldly things are nothing worth,
In that new state. O God, is this new birth,
Birth of the spirit dying to the flesh?
Are these the living waters which refresh
The thirsty spirit, that it thirst no more?
Still all my life is thirsting to the core.
Thou canst not satisfy, if this be Thou.
And yet I dream, or I remember how,
Before I came here, while I tarried yet
Among the friends they tell me to forget,
I never seemed to seek Thee, but I found
Thou wert in all the loveliness around,
And most of all in hearts that loved me well.
`And then I came to seek Thee in this cell,
To crucify my worldliness and pride,
To lay my heart's affections all aside,
As carnal hindrances which held my soul
From hasting unencumbered to her goal.
And all this have I done, or else have striven
To do, obeying the behest of Heaven,
And my reward is bitterness. I seem
To wander always in a feverish dream
On plains where there is only sun and sand,
No rock or tree in all the weary land,
My thirst unquenchable, my heart burnt dry.
And still in my parched throat I faintly cry,
Deliver me, O Lord: bow down Thine ear!
`He will not answer me. He does not hear.
I am alone within the universe.
Oh for a strength of will to rise and curse
God, and defy Him here to strike me dead!
But my heart fails me, and I bow my head,
And cry to Him for mercy, still in vain.
Oh for some sudden agony of pain,
To make such insurrection in my soul
That I might burst all bondage of control,
Be for one moment as the beasts that die,
And pour my life in one blaspheming cry!'
The morning came, and all the convent towers
Were gilt with glory by the golden hours.
But where was Ursula? The sisters came
With quiet footsteps, calling her by name,
But there was none that answered. In her cell,
The glad, illuminating sunshine fell
On form and face, and showed that she was dead.
`May Christ receive her soul!' the sisters said,
And spoke in whispers of her holy life,
And how God's mercy spared her pain and strife,
And gave this quiet death. The face was still,
Like a tired child's, that lies and sleeps its fill.
More verses by Robert Fuller Murray
- The Crown Of Years
- Cairnsmill Den
- Below Her Window
- To The Reader Of ‘university Notes’
- Thirty Years After