Bohemian legends and other poems/The Master Work
THE MASTER WORK.
Our master, Rubens, on a summer’s day,
Wandering in Spain, went in a convent church,
A poor bare church, I often heard him say,
Belonging to an order most severe.
Idly he looked around, but soon his gaze
Was fixed upon the picture of a monk,
A dying monk—but ne’er in all his days
Had he beheld a work of art like this;
He called his pupils, and they also gazed,
Admiring wondering whose this work might be.
When Thulden turning to them half amazed,
Said slowly, “See the name was written once,
But desecrating hands have dared efface
The name that would have shown throughout the land.”
“Go call the prior,” Rubens said, his face
Flushed with the wrath that shown within his eyes.
The prior came, a man of many years;
His wan white face and sunken eyes showed plain,
That life to him had been a vale of tears.
Silent he listened to the master’s praise.
“But tell me now, oh, father, whose the hand,
The hand that painted with a master’s skill,
That dying monk, and all the heavenly band?
I fain would see his face before I die.”
“He is no longer of this world, my son,”
The monk replied, his voice was sad and low:
“No longer of this world! His days are done!”
“And could he die, and leave his name unknown?”
“His name unknown—oh, God, it cannot be—
The hand that painted this shall never die.
Tell me his name, oh, father, I will see
Justice be done his shade, for I am one
Not all unknown to fame—you know my name
Is Rubens, but I tell you all to-day;
The hand that painted this hath greater fame
Than any I have won beneath the sun.”
A flush of red o’erspread the monk’s pale face,
A blaze of light burnt in the somber eyes,
Now fixed on Rubens for a moment’s space,
Then slowly faded, as he calmly said,
“He is no longer of this world, my son.”
“Tell us his name,” the pupils cried; “his name
Shall be remembered—his the victory won,
Though he lie still and silent in the grave.”
“Tell us his name,” our master Rubens said,
“Before whose fame perhaps my own will fade.
Let us do justice to the soul that fled,
Unknown, unhonored to the silent land.”
The monk was troubled, and his trembling hands
He folded on his breast, to still his heart,
As though afraid it might burst its bands,
And tell the name that quivered on his lips.
“He is no longer of this world,” he said,
“A convent door has closed upon his life;
He has renounced this world—see he is dead!
Leave him in peace, my son, he is a monk.”
“A monk!” said Rubens, “Oh, my father, say,
What convent hides the man that painted this?
A genius has no right to turn away,
And scorn the fame that would attend his steps;
I shall go to him, whisper in his ear,
‘Fame beckons to thee, friend, come leave thy cell.’
And should he tremble, and draw back in fear,
I will assure him of the pope’s good will.
The pope he loves me, father, he will hear,
He will absolve him from his convent vow,
And he will live among us ever near,
Honored and loved, and reverenced by us all.”
“I will not tell you what his name may be,—
Nor where he lives,” the monk replied in haste.
“Leave him in peace, my son, this may not be—
He has renounced the world and all its fame.”
Then Rubens said in wrath: “The pope shall know
What treasure you have hid in convent cell.”
Believe me, father, he will quickly send
A messenger to bring him from his cell.”
“Listen to me, my son,” the monk replied,
“Before this weary soul at length found cheer,
Think you he had no struggle with himself—
Ere he renounced the world, and then came here?
Think you he left the world, its wealth, its joy,
Before a bitter struggle had been fought.
Before he knew how idle friendships claim,
How vain the glory that the many sought.
Striking his breast, he said, “Listen, my son,
Leave him in peace, where peace he sought and found,
E’en earthly fame is but an idle dream,
One sleeps as well ’neath monument or mound,
And if you saw him, mark me, he would say,
And here he crossed himself, that God alone
Had called him to this cloister cell unknown,
Where he in peace could for his sins atone.
And He who called him, see, my son, can give
Strength to renounce this prospect seeming fair,
That you thrust on him, oh, I know him well,
He would not yield but lo, he might despair.”
“Yes, but my fathe ’tis an endless fame,
That he renounces for this convent cell.”
“My son, what is an endless fame on earth,
To the eternities where God doth dwell?”
Rubens was silent, and his scholars all,
With saddened faces, left the cloister gate.
The prior went back, and by his narrow bed
Fell on his knees and thanked God for his fate.
Then he arose, and gathered up his paints,
Brushes, and palette, with sad, pale face,
And threw them in the river flowing near;
Of all his many works he left no trace.
Sadly he watched them floating far away,
While thoughts unutterable before him swept,
And then he turned him to his crucifix,
To seek the aid of Him “who also wept.”