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    St Simeon Stylites

    by Lord Alfred Tennyson
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    Although I be the basest of mankind,
    From scalp to sole one slough and crust of sin,
    Unfit for earth, unfit for heaven, scarce meet
    For troops of devils, mad with blasphemy,
    I will not cease to grasp the hope I hold
    Of saintdom, and to clamour, mourn and sob,
    Battering the gates of heaven with storms of prayer,
    Have mercy, Lord, and take away my sin.

    Let this avail, just, dreadful, mighty God,
    This not be all in vain, that thrice ten years,
    Thrice multiplied by superhuman pangs,
    In hungers and in thirsts, fevers and cold,
    In coughs, aches, stitches, ulcerous throes and cramps,
    A sign betwixt the meadow and the cloud,
    Patient on this tall pillar I have borne
    Rain, wind, frost, heat, hail, damp, and sleet, and snow;
    And I had hoped that ere this period closed
    Thou wouldst have caught me up into thy rest,
    Denying not these weather-beaten limbs
    The meed of saints, the white robe and the palm.

    O take the meaning, Lord: I do not breathe,
    Not whisper, any murmur of complaint.
    Pain heaped ten-hundred-fold to this, were still
    Less burthen, by ten-hundred-fold, to bear,
    Than were those lead-like tons of sin that crushed
    My spirit flat before thee.

    O Lord, Lord,
    Thou knowest I bore this better at the first,
    For I was strong and hale of body then;
    And though my teeth, which now are dropped away,
    Would chatter with the cold, and all my beard
    Was tagged with icy fringes in the moon,
    I drowned the whoopings of the owl with sound
    Of pious hymns and psalms, and sometimes saw
    An angel stand and watch me, as I sang.
    Now am I feeble grown; my end draws nigh;
    I hope my end draws nigh: half deaf I am,
    So that I scarce can hear the people hum
    About the column's base, and almost blind,
    And scarce can recognize the fields I know;
    And both my thighs are rotted with the dew;
    Yet cease I not to clamour and to cry,
    While my stiff spine can hold my weary head,
    Till all my limbs drop piecemeal from the stone,
    Have mercy, mercy: take away my sin.

    O Jesus, if thou wilt not save my soul,
    Who may be saved? who is it may be saved?
    Who may be made a saint, if I fail here?
    Show me the man hath suffered more than I.
    For did not all thy martyrs die one death?
    For either they were stoned, or crucified,
    Or burned in fire, or boiled in oil, or sawn
    In twain beneath the ribs; but I die here
    Today, and whole years long, a life of death.
    Bear witness, if I could have found a way
    (And heedfully I sifted all my thought)
    More slowly-painful to subdue this home
    Of sin, my flesh, which I despise and hate,
    I had not stinted practice, O my God.

    For not alone this pillar-punishment,
    Not this alone I bore: but while I lived
    In the white convent down the valley there,
    For many weeks about my loins I wore
    The rope that haled the buckets from the well,
    Twisted as tight as I could knot the noose;
    And spake not of it to a single soul,
    Until the ulcer, eating through my skin,
    Betrayed my secret penance, so that all
    My brethren marvelled greatly. More than this
    I bore, whereof, O God, thou knowest all.

    Three winters, that my soul might grow to thee,
    I lived up there on yonder mountain-side.
    My right leg chained into the crag, I lay
    Pent in a roofless close of ragged stones;
    Inswathed sometimes in wandering mist, and twice
    Blacked with thy branding thunder, and sometimes
    Sucking the damps for drink, and eating not,
    Except the spare chance-gift of those that came
    To touch my body and be healed, and live:
    And they say then that I worked miracles,
    Whereof my fame is loud amongst mankind,
    Cured lameness, palsies, cancers. Thou, O God,
    Knowest alone whether this was or no.
    Have mercy, mercy; cover all my sin.

    Then, that I might be more alone with thee,
    Three years I lived upon a pillar, high
    Six cubits, and three years on one of twelve;
    And twice three years I crouched on one that rose
    Twenty by measure; last of all, I grew
    Twice ten long weary weary years to this,
    That numbers forty cubits from the soil.

    I think that I have borne as much as this -
    Or else I dream -and for so long a time,
    If I may measure time by yon slow light,
    And this high dial, which my sorrow crowns -
    So much -even so.

    And yet I know not well,
    For that the evil ones come here, and say,
    "Fall down, O Simeon: thou hast suffered long
    For ages and for ages!" then they prate
    Of penances I cannot have gone through,
    Perplexing me with lies; and oft I fall,
    Maybe for months, in such blind lethargies
    That Heaven, and Earth, and Time are choked.

    But yet
    Bethink thee, Lord, while thou and all the saints
    Enjoy themselves in heaven, and men on earth
    House in the shade of comfortable roofs,
    Sit with their wives by fires, eat wholesome food,
    And wear warm clothes, and even beasts have stalls,
    I, 'tween the spring and downfall of the light,
    Bow down one thousand and two hundred times,
    To Christ, the Virgin Mother, and the Saints;
    Or in the night, after a little sleep,
    I wake: the chill stars sparkle; I am wet
    With drenching dews, or stiff with crackling frost.
    I wear an undressed goatskin on my back;
    A grazing iron collar grinds my neck;
    And in my weak lean arms I lift the cross,
    And strive and wrestle with thee till I die:
    O mercy, mercy! wash away my sin.

    O Lord, thou knowest what a man I am;
    A sinful man, conceived and born in sin:
    'Tis their own doing; this is none of mine;
    Lay it not to me. Am I to blame for this,
    That here come those that worship me? Ha! ha!
    They think that I am somewhat. What am I?
    The silly people take me for a saint,
    And bring me offerings of fruit and flowers:
    And I, in truth (thou wilt bear witness here)
    Have all in all endured as much, and more,
    Than many just and holy men, whose names
    Are registered and calendared for saints.

    Good people, you do ill to kneel to me.
    What is it I can have done to merit this?
    I am a sinner viler than you all.
    It may be I have wrought some miracles,
    And cured some halt and maimed; but what of that?
    It may be, no one, even among the saints,
    May match his pains with mine; but what of that?
    Yet do not rise; for you may look on me,
    And in your looking you may kneel to God.
    Speak! is there any of you halt or maimed?
    I think you know I have some power with Heaven
    From my long penance: let him speak his wish.

    Yes, I can heal him. Power goes forth from me.
    They say that they are healed. Ah, hark! they shout
    "St Simeon Stylites." Why, if so,
    God reaps a harvest in me! O my soul,
    God reaps a harvest in thee. If this be,
    Can I work miracles and not be saved?
    This is not told of any. They were saints.
    It cannot be but that I shall be saved;
    Yea, crowned a saint. They shout, "Behold a saint!"
    And lower voices saint me from above.
    Courage, St Simeon! This dull chrysalis
    Cracks into shining wings, and hope ere death
    Spreads more and more and more, that God hath now
    Sponged and made blank of crimeful record all
    My mortal archives.

    O my sons, my sons,
    I, Simeon of the pillar, by surname
    Stylites, among men; I, Simeon,
    The watcher on the column till the end;
    I, Simeon, whose brain the sunshine bakes;
    I, whose bald brows in silent hours become
    Unnaturally hoar with rime, do now
    From my high nest of penance here proclaim
    That Pontius and Iscariot by my side
    Showed like fair seraphs. On the coals I lay,
    A vessel full of sin: all hell beneath
    Made me boil over. Devils plucked my sleeve,
    Abaddon and Asmodeus caught at me.
    I smote them with the cross; they swarmed again.
    In bed like monstrous apes they crushed my chest:
    They flapped my light out as I read: I saw
    Their faces grow between me and my book;
    With colt-like whinny and with hoggish whine
    They burst my prayer. Yet this way was left,
    And by this way I 'scaped them. Mortify
    Your flesh, like me, with scourges and with thorns;
    Smite, shrink not, spare not. If it may be, fast
    Whole Lents, and pray. I hardly, with slow steps,
    With slow, faint steps, and much exceeding pain,
    Have scrambled past those pits of fire, that still
    Sing in mine ears. But yield not me the praise:
    God only through his bounty hath thought fit,
    Among the powers and princes of this world,
    To make me an example to mankind,
    Which few can reach to. Yet I do not say
    But that a time may come -yea, even now,
    Now, now, his footsteps smite the threshold stairs
    Of life -I say, that time is at the doors
    When you may worship me without reproach;
    For I will leave my relics in your land,
    And you may carve a shrine about my dust,
    And burn a fragrant lamp before my bones,
    When I am gathered to the glorious saints.

    While I spake then, a sting of shrewdest pain
    Ran shrivelling through me, and a cloudlike change,
    In passing, with a grosser film made thick
    These heavy, horny eyes. The end! the end!
    Surely the end! What's here? a shape, a shade,
    A flash of light. Is that the angel there
    That holds a crown? Come, blessed brother, come.
    I know thy glittering face. I waited long;
    My brows are ready. What! deny it now?
    Nay, draw, draw, draw nigh. So I clutch it. Christ!
    'Tis gone: 'tis here again; the crown! the crown!
    So now 'tis fitted on and grows to me,
    And from it melt the dews of Paradise,
    Sweet! sweet! spikenard, and balm, and frankincense.
    Ah! let me not be fooled, sweet saints: I trust
    That I am whole, and clean, and meet for Heaven.

    Speak, if there be a priest, a man of God,
    Among you there, and let him presently
    Approach, and lean a ladder on the shaft,
    And climbing up into my airy home,
    Deliver me the blessed sacrament;
    For by the warning of the Holy Ghost,
    I prophesy that I shall die tonight,
    A quarter before twelve.

    But thou, O Lord,
    Aid all this foolish people; let them take
    Example, pattern: lead them to thy light.
    If you're writing a St Simeon Stylites essay and need some advice, post your Lord Alfred Tennyson essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

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