Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. IV. The Higher Life
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume IV. The Higher Life.  1904.
 
III. Faith: Hope: Love: Service
The Sister of Charity
Gerald Griffen (1803–1840)
 
SHE once was a lady of honor and wealth;
Bright glowed in her features the roses of health;
Her vesture was blended of silk and of gold,
And her motion shook perfume from every fold:
Joy revelled around her, love shone at her side,        5
And gay was her smile as the glance of a bride;
And light was her step in the mirth-sounding hall,
When she heard of the daughters of Vincent de Paul.
 
She felt in her spirit the summons of grace,
That called her to live for her suffering race;        10
And, heedless of pleasure, of comfort, of home,
Rose quickly, like Mary, and answered, “I come.”
She put from her person the trappings of pride,
And passed from her home with the joy of a bride,
Nor wept at the threshold as onward she moved,—        15
For her heart was on fire in the cause it approved.
 
Lost ever to fashion, to vanity lost,
That beauty that once was the song and the toast,
No more in the ball-room that figure we meet,
But gliding at dusk to the wretch’s retreat.        20
Forgot in the halls is that high-sounding name,
For the Sister of Charity blushes at fame:
Forgot are the claims of her riches and birth,
For she barters for heaven the glory of earth.
 
Those feet, that to music could gracefully move,        25
Now bear her alone on the mission of love;
Those hands, that once dangled the perfume and gem,
Are tending the helpless, or lifted for them;
That voice, that once echoed the song of the vain,
Now whispers relief to the bosom of pain;        30
And the hair that was shining with diamond and pearl,
Is wet with the tears of the penitent girl.
 
Her down-bed, a pallet—her trinkets, a bead;
Her lustre—one taper, that serves her to read;
Her sculpture—the crucifix nailed by her bed;        35
Her paintings—one print of the thorn-crownèd head;
Her cushion—the pavement that wearies her knees;
Her music—the psalm, or the sigh of disease:
The delicate lady lives mortified there,
And the feast is forsaken for fasting and prayer.        40
 
Yet not to the service of heart and of mind
Are the cares of that heaven-minded virgin confined:
Like Him whom she loves, to the mansions of grief
She hastes with the tidings of joy and relief.
She strengthens the weary, she comforts the weak,        45
And soft is her voice in the ear of the sick;
Where want and affliction on mortals attend,
The Sister of Charity there is a friend.
 
Unshrinking where pestilence scatters his breath,
Like an angel she moves, mid the vapors of death;        50
Where rings the loud musket, and flashes the sword,
Unfearing she walks, for she follows her Lord.
How sweetly she bends o’er each plague-tainted face,
With looks that are lighted with holiest grace;
How kindly she dresses each suffering limb,        55
For she sees in the wounded the image of Him.
 
Behold her, ye worldly! behold her, ye vain!
Who shrink from the pathway of virtue and pain!
Who yield up to pleasure your nights and your days,
Forgetful of service, forgetful of praise.        60
Ye lazy philosophers, self-seeking men;
Ye fireside philanthropists, great at the pen;
How stands in the balance your eloquence weighed
With the life and the deeds of that high-born maid?
 
 
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