Augusta Davies Webster

Here you will find the Long Poem The Manuscript of Saint Alexius of poet Augusta Davies Webster

The Manuscript of Saint Alexius

There came a child into the solemn hall 
where great Pope Innocent sat throned and heard 
angry disputings on Free-Will in man, 
Grace, Purity, and the Pelagian creed-- 
an ignorantly bold poor child, who stood 
shewing his rags before the Pope's own eyes, 
and bade him come to shrive a beggar man 
he found alone and dying in a shed, 
who sent him for the Pope, "not any else 
but the Pope's self." And Innocent arose 
and hushed the mockers "Surely I will go: 
servant of servants, I." So he went forth 
to where the man lay sleeping into death, 
and blessed him. Then, with a last spurt of life, 
the dying man rose sitting, "Take," he said, 
and placed a written scroll in the Pope's hand, 
and so fell back and died. Thus said the scroll: 

Alexius, meanest servant of the Lord, 
son of Euphemianus, senator, 
and of Aglaia, writes his history, 
God willing it, which, if God so shall will, 
shall be revealed when he is fallen asleep. 
Spirit of Truth, Christ, and all saints of Heaven, 
and Mary, perfect dove of guilelessness, 
make his mind clear, that he write utter truth. 

That which I was all know: that which I am 
God knows, not I, if I stand near to Him 
because I have not yielded, or, by curse 
of recreant longings, am to Him a wretch 
it needs Such grace to pardon: but I know 
that one day soon I, dead, shall see His face 
with that great pity on it which is ours 
who love Him and have striven and then rest, 
that I shall look on Him and be content. 

For what I am, in my last days, to men, 
'tis nothing; scarce a name, and even that 
known to be not my own; a wayside wretch 
battening upon a rich lord's charity 
and praying, (some say like the hypocrites), 
a wayside wretch who, harboured for a night, 
is harboured still, and, idle on the alms, 
prays day and night and night and day, and fears 
lest, even praying, he should suddenly 
undo his prayer and perish and be great 
and rich and happy. Jesu, keep me Thine. 

Father and mother, when ye hear of me, 
(for I shall choose so sure a messenger 
whom God will shew me), when ye hear these words, 
and Claudia, whom I dead will dare count mine, 
bidding her pray she be Christ's more than mine, 
believe I loved you; know it; but, beloved, 
you never will know how much till at length 
God bids you know all things in the new life. 
Alas, you have had little joy of me: 
beloved, could I have given drops of blood 
in place of your shed tears, the cruellest wounds 
had been my perfect joys: but both my love 
and your distress needs were my cross to bear. 
Forgive me that you sorrowed. And be glad 
because you sorrowed and your sorrow was 
holy to God, a sacrifice to Him. 

Know now, all men who read or hear my words, 
that I, Alexius, lived in much delights 
of a dear home where they who looked on me 
looked with a smile, and where I did but smile 
to earn sweet praises as for some good deed: 
I was the sunlight to my mother's eyes, 
that waked their deepest blueness and warm glow, 
I was my father's joy, ambition, boast, 
his hope and his fulfilment. It may be 
I grew too strong a link betwixt their hearts 
and this poor world whose best gifts seemed to them 
destined for me, grew, when they looked on Heaven, 
a blur upon their sight, too largely near, 
as any trivial tiny shape held close 
will make eclipse against the eye it fills: 
and so, maybe. for their sake, not for mine, 
God took me from them, me, their only son, 
for whom they prayed, and trebled pious deeds, 
and took thought in this life. 

I grew by them, 
learning all meet for my estate on earth, 
but learning more, what they taught more, of God, 
and loving most that learning. And at times, 
even from childhood, would my heart grow still 
and seem to feel Him, hear Him, and I knew, 
but not with ears, a voice that spoke no words 
yet called me. And, as ignorant children choose 
"I will be emperor when I am big," 
my foolish wont was "I will be a saint:" 
later, when riper sense brought humbleness, 
I said "When I am grown a man, my lot 
Shall be with those who vow their lives to Christ." 

But, when my father thought my words took shape 
of other than boy's prattle, he grew grave, 
and answered me "Alexius, thou art young, 
and canst not judge of duties; but know this 
thine is to serve God, living in the world." 

And still the days went on, and still I felt 
the silent voice that called me: then I said 
"My father, now I am no more a child, 
and I can know my heart; give me to God:" 
but he replied "God gives no son save thee 
to keep our fathers' name alive, and thus 
He shews thy place and duty:" and, with tears, 
my mother said "God gives no child save thee;