Muriel Stuart

Here you will find the Long Poem Christ at Carnival of poet Muriel Stuart

Christ at Carnival

THE hand of carnival was at my door, 
I listened to its knocking, and sped down: 
Faith was forgotten, Duty led no more: 
I heard a wonton revelry in the town; 
The Carnival ran in my veins like fire! 
And some unfrustrable desire 
Goaded me on to catch the roses thrown 
From breast to breast, and with my own 
Fugitive kiss to snatch the fugitive kiss; 
I broke all faith for this 
One wild and worthless hour, 
To dance, to run, to beckon, as a flower 
Maddens the bee with half-surrendering, 
Then flies back in the air with petals shut.

Fainting with laughter and pursuit 
I heard shrill winds leap out and sink again, 
Tracking the green bed where the Spring hath lain, 
And vanished from, whose feet made audible 
Music among the tall trees on the hill. 
Above me leaned a nightingale 
Burdened and big with song, whose throat let fall 
Long notes, so poignant and so musical, 
I deemed his young mate, listening, 
Heard him less passionately sing 
Than I a-foot at Carnival!

Above the town, swart Night came rolling in 
Upon her couch of heliotrope: 
A new Moon, young and thin, 
Lay like a Columbine 
Teasing the spent hill, her old Harlequin, 
She, who of late waned on the bitter sky, 
Furtive and old, a woman without hope, 
Begging in long-familiar streets, where Sin 
Once seeking her, now shuddered and went by.

Caught in the meshes of a merry throng, 
I stumbled through the lighted Market Place; 
The lanterns swung an undetermined rose 
In Night's convulsive face 
As we were swept along 
In crazy dance and song,-- 
On through the mirth-mad alleys of the town, 
With shrill loud laughter tumbled roughly down, 
Whirled up in swift embrace. 
All, all went swinging, swaying in the revel, 
Laughing and reeling, kissing each and all-- 
A crowd that wildest jesting did dishevel-- 
O mad night of Carnival!

Racing along the last mean street that goes 
From house to house to find the mountain track, 
I loosed their hands to catch a rose 
Flung from some casement; swiftly they turned back 
With gusty laughter their wild mates to greet, 
Swift as the footless wind along the wheat! 
Fainter and fainter grew their revelling, 
Deserted of a sudden, lay the street, 
Silence fell on me like a famished thing, 
Making my soul aware of one who stood 
Beside me--one who wore a monkish hood. 
I stared, as one who sees 
Beneath the thin and settled sheet 
Over still mysteries 
Faint outline of belovèd hands and feet, 
Too little loved and now too dead to care, 
And suddenly becomes aware 
That more than Death lies there, 
That from this piteous and submissive change 
Something has risen, terrible and strange.

Why fell my roses? What fear drove me, then, 
To question him: "Who art thou, citizen? 
Fainter and fainter grows the Carnival. 
Wilt thou lock hands and turn with me again?" 
He answered not, but let the hood half-fall, 
Showing a thorn-plait on a forehead marred; 
Trembling I cried: "Who art thou, Lord?" 
"As thou sayest, I am He! 
How long upn my cross am I to bleed 
For thee still to deny me utterly? 
Is not the hour yet come that I be freed, 
How long am I to listen at thy door?"

Stricken in soul, I fell against his feet, 
In rose-disorderd street, 
Weeping: "I have not heard Thy foot before." 
He answered: "He who hears 
Loud noise of Carnival about his ears, 
How shall he heed the foot with silence shod, 
Or listen for the small still voice of God? 
What is thy life? 
Is thy sword stained in any splended strife? 
Hast thou, in all thy safe, unshaken years, 
Once thrown thyself upon Night's ambushed spears, 
Or broken with thy tears 
Thy heart against the Dawn's feet any day? 
Hast thou spurned 
Any earthly perishable sweet thing 
To bear another's burden? Hast thou learned 
At any knee but Folly's, trafficing 
With every sweet delight that said thee 'yea'? 
Oft hast thy goaded men to kiss thy mouth, 
The flower of thy youth 
Thou hast rendered up to any wind that's fleet, 
But hast thou ever hastened to the Cross 
To kiss My saving feet?"

"Thou knowest, Lord, thou knowest, I have not striven, 
I made life easy, profitable, sweet, 
I have not loved much or been much forgiven; 
Of all a woman's vows the holiest-- 
To children that were posies at my breast-- 
I have forsworn, to-night, forsaking all 
The ways of God to dance at Carnival. 
What have I now to offer Thee Who deignest 
To seek for grape on such unfruitful vine; 
Who with such sinful head Thy bosom stainest!" 
He said: "The last allegiance will be Mine, 
Leave all and follow Me."

"Nay but my little children sleep at home 
Beside their father, I would say good-bye." 
He answered: "Was there an