Verse > Anthologies > Harriet Monroe, ed. > Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 1912–22
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Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936).  Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.  1912–22.
 
Saint John of Nepomuc
By Ruth Comfort Mitchell
 
LAST summer I Columbused John, in Prague, that deadly Bush League town—
I’d quit ’em cold on pictures and cathedrals for awhile.
I hung around for Ma and Sis (Good Lord, there wasn’t one they’d miss—
Pale martyrs till you couldn’t sleep, Madonnas by the mile!)
 
I read some dope in Baedeker about a tablet on the bridge,        5
And how they slipped this poor old scout the double cross for fair.
I’m off high-brow historic truck, but Father John of Nepomuc,
You must admit he was the goods. Believe me, he was there!
 
The king was Wenzel Number Four. John was sky-pilot for the court.
King gets a hunch that Mrs. King has something on her mind.        10
He goes to sleuthing more and more. He says, “Gadzooks! I’ll have their gore!”
(Don’t ever let ’em string you on that bunk that love is blind!)
 
The queen—I’ll bet she was some queen—she tangoes blithely on her way.
She fails to see the storm clouds on her regal husband’s dome.
I got him guessed, that Wenzel guy harpoons a girl that’s young and spry,        15
And tries to seal her up for life in the Old Peoples’ Home!
 
The way I had it figured out she married him to please her folks:
“Our son-in-law, the Kink, you know!” (Some speed! I guess that’s poor?)
So, when she sights a Maiden’s Dream—some real live wire that’s made the team,
Well, she sits up and notices, like any girl. Why, sure!        20
 
Old Wenzel can’t quite cinch the case, but what he doesn’t know, he thinks.
The lump he calls a heart congeals beneath his fancy vest.
He sends for poor old Father John and says as follows:—“I am on!
I merely lack a few details! What hath the queen confessed?”
 
He holds the court upon the bridge. “Speak up,” he says, or otherwise        25
These spears shall thrust you down to death! Come through! I am the king!
Kick in! What did my spouse confess?” The queen sends frantic S. O. S….
Maybe I sort of dozed, but well—here’s how I got this thing …
 
He saw the startled courtiers, straining their ears;
He saw the white queen swaying, striving to stand;        30
He saw the soldiers tensely gripping their spears,
Waiting the king’s command:
He heard small page drawing a sobbing breath;
He heard a bird’s call, poignant and sweet and low;
He heard the rush of the river, spelling death,        35
Mocking him, down below.
    But he only said, “My liege,
    To my honor you lay siege,
    And that fortress you can never overthrow.”
 
He thought of how he had led them, all the years;        40
He thought of how he had served them, death and birth;
He thought of healing their hates, stilling their fears …
Humbly, he weighed his worth.
He knew he was leaving them, far from the goal;
He knew, with a deep joy, it was safe … and wise.        45
He knew that now the pale queen’s pitiful soul
Would awake, and arise.
    And he only said, “My king,
    Every argument you bring
    Merely sets my duty forth in sterner guise.”        50
 
He felt the spears’ points, merciless, thrust him down;
He felt the exquisite, fierce glory of pain;
He felt the bright waves eager, reaching to drown,
Engulf him, body and brain.
He sensed cries, faint and clamorous, far behind;        55
He sensed cool peace, and the buoyant arms of love;
He sensed like a beacon, clear, beckoning, kind,
Five stars, floating above …
    To the ones who watched it seemed
    That he slept … and smiled … and dreamed.        60
    “And the waters were abated … and the dove.”
 
And there I was on that old bridge—boob freshman me, on that same bridge!
The lazy river hummed and purred, and sang a sleepy song.
Of course, I know it listens queer, but, gad, it was so real and near,
I stood there basking in the sun for goodness knows how long.        65
 
Sometimes I see it even now. I see that little, lean old saint
Put up against the shining spears his simple nerve and pluck:
And once, by Jove, you know, he came right down beside me in the game …
We know who made the touchdown then, old John of Nepomuc!
 
 
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