Verse > Anthologies > The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse > 310. From ‘The Death of St. Francis’
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Nicholson & Lee, eds.  The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse. 1917.
  
310. From ‘The Death of St. Francis’
By Arthur Shearly Cripps  (b. 1869)
  
WHAT art Thou, dearest Lord, and what am I,
  Vile worm and worthless dust?’
 
He answered me.

On Holy Cross Day to my prayer there came
An Angel bearing in his rainbow wings
Nailed Hands and Feet, the Image of my Lord.        5
 
How can I tell it? The thing is sacred, dear,
O brothers mine, I give you all I can,
And yet I leave you but the husk of it,
The heart of it I selfish take away.
How can I tell? The thing is sacred, dear,—       10
Hands grew to hands, feet seemed to grow to feet,
His Hands to my hands, Feet of His to mine;
Exalted and extended on His cross,
I seemed in one great stab of eager pain
To feel His heart beating within my heart.       15
 
Brethren, this thing so sacred, and so dear,
I would that I could tell you, for it seems
Surely a sin to give God’s poor my all,
And yet to keep Love’s purest ingot back,
That fever-throb of His within my heart,       20
That moment’s gold refined in sharpest fire,
And anguish of a crucifying world.
 
‘What art Thou, dearest Lord, and what am I,
Vile worm and worthless servant?’
 
Answer came.

I felt His Heart to beat within my heart.
       25
It seemed He lent His Sacred Heart to me:
One moment did I know His wish, His work,
As if mine own they were, and knew with them
The worm-like weakness of my wasted life,
My service worthless to win back His world.       30
(Sharp Sister Faintness knits dark brows at me,
And o’er her shoulder looks sweet Sister Death,
Holding a glass my last hour’s sands run down.)
 
I cannot tell the half of it, yet hear
What rush of feeling still comes back to me, MYST       35
From that proud torture hanging on His Cross,
From that gold rapture of His Heart in mine.
 
I knew in blissful anguish what it means
To be a part of Christ, and feel as mine
The dark distresses of my brother limbs,       40
To feel it bodily and simply true,
To feel as mine the starving of His poor,
To feel as mine the shadow of curse on all,
Hard words, hard looks, and savage misery,
And struggling deaths, unpitied and unwept.       45
To feel rich brothers’ sad satieties,
The weary manner of their lives and deaths,
That want in love, and lacking love lack all.
To feel the heavy sorrow of the world
Thicken and thicken on to future hell,       50
To mighty cities with their miles of streets,
Where men seek work for days, and walk and starve,
Freezing on river-banks on winter nights,
And come at last to cord or stream or steel.
 
The horror of the things our brothers bear!       55
It was but naught to that which after came,
The woe of things we make our brothers bear,
Our brothers and our sisters! In my heart
Christ’s Heart seemed beating, and the world’s whole sin,—
Its crimson malice and grey negligence,—       60
Rose up and blackening hid the Face of God.
 
I that in Christ had tasted to the full
The nails and knotted scourges of the world,
Now felt the contrary and greater woe,—
The utmost ache of God’s atoning grief,—       65
Their bitterness who scourge and drive the nails,
And bring upon themselves a darker pain
Than any felt by scourged or crucified.
Upon my heart gnawed, worse than sorrow of death,—
Sorrow of selfishness, and cursed my Cross       70
With black forsaking of the Face of Love.
My God, my God, Thou wast forsaking me!…
 
Ah! brothers mine, how any words are cold
To tell the agony of being part
Of every schism in the Crucified,       75
Of feeling hand smite out at fellow hand,
And foot spurn fellow foot, and breasts refuse
The milk of mercy to the lips that were
Flesh of their own flesh. The sucked and empty names
Of ‘brother’ and of ‘sister’ how they hissed,       80
Hissed through the savage teeth that tore the flesh,
Withered in mouths that kissed to endless shame.
No sob of Love but echoing fell away
In earthquake thunders of unthankfulness.
 
Vile worm and worthless servant, how I knew       85
My work, our work, as nothing in that tide
Of a vast world’s refusal of the Cross
Setting toward that world’s appointed doom!
 
The thing is very sacred, very dear,
Sweet Jesu, help me tell them, how my heart       90
Swelled near to breaking with the Love of Thine,
That felt it all and Loved and Loved and Loved.
I felt the Sacred Heart within my own,
And knew one pulse therein of purest strength,
That drove a cry of passion to my lips,       95
‘Father, forgive, they know not what they do.’
Could I but tell you how that cry seemed truth—
The truest prayer my lips had ever made—
I had told you almost all! It may not be.
 
O Heart of Jesus, Sacred, Passionate,      100
Anguish it was, yet anguish that was bliss,
To love them heart to heart, each selfish heart,
To clasp them close, and pray in utter truth—
‘Father, forgive, they know not what they do.’
One was the heart of him that ground the poor,      105
Poor weary heart, so blinded and misled!
One was the heart of her that reeked in shame,
Poor weary heart, so blinded and misled!
One was my heart that wasted half its years,
And knew so little how to use the rest      110
To God’s sole glory, and the love of men,
Poor weary heart, so blinded and misled!
 
But O! that Sacred Heart rushed out to them
In veriest anguish and in veriest bliss,
Demanding, craving, in sure hope of them,      115
‘Father, forgive, they know not what they do.’
 
And O! that Sacred Heart burnt up in Flame
Against that harsh misleader of our world,
And O! I felt an awful thrill of Love
As with one heart-beat of wild ecstasy      120
I set my heel upon that Serpent’s head
In resolute anguish, watching how the fangs
Snapped at my heel, and gored it into blood,
My heel that yet shall grind his head to dust.
Was it I that did it? Nay, the Christ in me,      125
But when I woke His Prints were in my hands,
And in my feet, while in my side there showed
As it were the Heart-Wound from the soldier’s lance.

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