Verse > Anthologies > Thomas R. Lounsbury, ed. > Yale Book of American Verse
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Thomas R. Lounsbury, ed. (1838–1915). Yale Book of American Verse.  1912.
 
William Wetmore Story. 1819–1895
 
121. L'Abbate
 
WERE it not for that singular smell 
  That seems to the genus priest to belong, 
Where snuff and incense are mingled well 
  With a natural odor quite as strong: 
Were it not for those little ways         5
  Of clasped and deprecating hands; 
And raising and lowering his eyes always 
  As if he only waited commands— 
  
Little there is in him of the priest, 
  With only the slightest touch of cant,  10
With a simple, guileless heart in his breast, 
  And a mind as honest as ignorant. 
Half a child and half a man, 
  Ripe in the Fathers and green in thought, 
In his little circle of half a span  15
  He thinks that he thinks what he was taught. 
  
His duty he does to the scruple's weight; 
  Recites his prayers, and mumbles his mass, 
And without his litanies, early and late, 
  Never permits a day to pass.  20
Look at him there in the garden-plots 
  Repeating his office, as to and fro 
He paces around the orange-pots, 
  Looking about while his quick lips go. 
  
His simple pleasure in simple things,  25
  His willing spirit that never tires, 
His trivial jokes and wonderings, 
  His peaceful temper that never fires, 
His joy over trifles of every day, 
  The feeble poems he loves to quote,—  30
Are just like a child, with his heart in his play, 
  While his duty and lessons are drill and rote. 
  
What life means he does not think; 
  Reason and thought he has been told 
Only lead to a perilous brink,  35
  Away from Christ and the Church's fold. 
Therefore he humbly and blindly obeys; 
  Does what he 's ordered and reasons not; 
Performs his prayers, and thinks he prays, 
  And asks not how, or why, or what.  40
  
Happy in this, why stir his mind, 
  Stagnant in thought although it be? 
Leave him alone—he is gentle and kind, 
  And blest with a child's simplicity. 
Thinking would only give him unrest,  45
  Struggle, and toil, and inward strain; 
His heart is right in his thoughtless breast, 
  Why should one wish to torment his brain? 
  
Yet out of pastime one evil day 
  I unfolded to him Pythagoras' plan—  50
How step by step the soul made its way 
  From sea-anemone up to man,— 
How onward to higher grades it went, 
  If its human life had been fair and pure; 
Or if not, to the lower scale was sent,  55
  Again to ascend to man, and endure. 
  
And so the soul had gleams of the past, 
  And felt in itself dim sympathies 
With nature, that ended in us at last, 
  And each of whose forms within us lies.  60
He smiled at first, and then by degrees 
  Grew silent and sad, and confessed 't was true, 
But with spirit so pained and ill at ease, 
  That my foolish work I strove to undo. 
  
This thinking 's the spawn of Satan, I said,  65
  That tempts us into the sea of doubt; 
And Satan has endless snares to spread, 
  If once with our reason we venture out. 
Here you are in your Church like a port, 
  Anchored secure, where never a gale  70
Can break your moorings,—nor even in sport 
  Should you weigh your anchor or spread your sail. 
  
So I got him back to his anchor again, 
  And there in the stagnant harbor he lies; 
And he looks upon me with a sense of pain  75
  As a wild freebooter; for to his eyes 
Free thinking, free sailing seems to be, 
  A sort of a godless, dangerous thing, 
Like a pirate's life on a stormy sea— 
  And sure at the last damnation to bring.  80
 
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