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The Collected Poems of Dora Sigerson Shorter/The Dean of Santiago

< The Collected Poems of Dora Sigerson Shorter


The Dean of Santiago on his mule
Rode quick the Guadalquivir banks along,
He had no eye the veiling eve to love,
No ear to listen for the bird's late song.

Gold mist and purple of the setting sun,
Rose lapping wave and linnet's low good-night,
The crags that sat the hills like kings enthroned,
All heather-crowned, for him had no delight.

His roaming glances go from east to west,
Climb quick before him, find amid the rocks
A hut; he hastens, casting free his mule,
And with no gentle hand the door he knocks.

“Now who would enter?” “I, the Dean, let pass.”
He sees the tenant working at his books,
“And what can I, a student, poor, remote,
Do for the Dean?” he answers to his looks.

“Teach me your magic, so I learn to slave
The hiding creatures from the circling air
And bid them speak. Blow from the crystal globe
The mists that hold my future clouded there.”

“What? Share my magic! But it were not well:
The Church such study doth denounce and shun.”
The Dean with some rebuke now makes reply,
“My law I own in this—let it be done.”

“Then you must eat before the task is set:
Well, when you finish; since you eager are
We should begin. Nay, this I do insist.
For you are weary, having travelled far.

“Hussein!”—he bids the servant by his side—
“Go tell the cook a guest with me will dine;
And let two capons be prepared by him,
And two gold cups of my most famous wine.

“Tie up the straying mule. And now begone;
The Dean within an hour will dine with me.”
The servant goes, and lets the curtain fall,
And darkness folds the room in mystery.

Soft wings brush past the Dean, strange sounds Boat up,
Like tongues that have no words, through the still air.
“What say you?” leans the Dean with eager ears
And grasping hands that find no substance there.

“What are you?” But the magic mist is gone,
Hussein has entered, and the light let through.
“A message for the Dean.” He reads in haste,
The Bishop being dead, we send for you.

The Dean arises full of pompous pride :
“If I am Bishop, I shall not forget
My student-teacher, and shall bid you come
To teach that lore I leave with much regret.”

A month has passed—the Bishop in his room
Receives the student bowing at his feet.
With some delight, and says he has prepared
A secret chamber where they can repeat

Their former study, and so follow it.
The student, smiling gratitude, doth speak,
“I beg a boon of you,” and hears reply,
“I make a promise, and I never break.

“The boon is yours.” The student bows again:
“I have a son, a gentle youth and good,
Who seeks the Church.” The Bishop lifts his eyes,
“To him I hold the hand of brotherhood.

“Soon I shall call him, but to-day my time
Is thick with thought, because a rumour came
The great Archbishop at the door of Death
Doth knock—the air is heavy with my name.”

A year goes by, and the Archbishop wakes,
Springs from his bed, and “Hussein, you!” he cries,
To find strange eyes upon him. Bows the Moor,
“My master waits your message,” he replies.

“Then bid him enter, take up his abode
Within my Palace, wait until I come.
To-day my mind is busy with such things
That bid me to all other thoughts be dumb.

“Go, tell your master, he will understand.
The Cardinal is dying. What I His son
Begs for a hope I What better hope than this—
The Cardinal is dying?—I have done.”

The Cardinal upon his throne reclines,
And at his feet the student, bowing low,
“A boon, my lord, a boon—let me begone.
Back to my solitude I fain would go.

“Here comes the world between me and my art,
My soul is weary and my body ill,
My study broken, and my time misspent;
You have forgotten what was once your will.”

“Nay, friend,” the other cries, “you are unjust;
My heart is with you, and I pray you stay
Until my mind breaks from the bonds of care
That hold it now—a little more delay.

“Have you not heard the rumour that goes forth—
The Pope is dying? Who shall fill his chair
When he has passed all sainted to the grave?
Peace, friend, until the occupant is there.”

The Pope within his chamber, deep in thought.
Hears at his door a knock, and saying, “Come,”
The student bends before him with reproach,
“From all my knowledge you have picked no crumb.

“O Holiness! we had no feast of lore.
But fortune came to you beneath my star.
Then let me go, since me you do not wish,
Now you are greater than all others are.”

“Old man,” the Pope replied,“ I let you go
In pity of your age and fading hair,
Whom I should prison in my dungeon deep
For all the evil magic you did dare

“Reveal to me, who only sought your side
To find your wickedness and give it light
Go back into your wilderness, but leave
Your ways of darkness. Get you from my sight.”

“O Holiness,” the student bent and said,
“My son for whom you promised of your aid”;
“Begone!” the Pope replied; “think not I should
By son of you the Christian Church degrade.”

“I go, great Holiness, without a fee
For all my time ; now but one boon I hold;
To break my fast, I hunger as I go—
Give me one meal, the way is long and cold.”

Now spake the Pope in anger, struck the bell,
“I call my guards to put this beggar out.”
The door swings open, Hussein enters quick,
“What, you again?”—he rises in his doubt.

He gazes round, his Palace slips away,
A shadow-palace floating from his eyes.
“What ho! my guards,” his voice falls into tears.
He rubs his lids to rid them of surprise.

“Hussein,” the student smiles, “go tell the cook
One capon only, and one cup of wine,
And bring this ingrate's mule beside the door—
The Dean of Santiago will not dine.”