Richard Harris Barham

Here you will find the Long Poem A Lay of St. Nicholas of poet Richard Harris Barham

A Lay of St. Nicholas

'Statim sacerdoti apparuit diabolus in specie puellæ pulchritudinis miræ, et ecce Divus, fide catholica et cruce et aqua benedicta armatus, venit, et aspersit aquam in nomine Sanctæ et Individuæ Trinitatis, quam, quasi ardentem, diabolus, nequaquam sustinere valens, mugitibus fugit.' 
-- Roger Hoveden. 

Lord Abbot! Lord Abbot! I'd fain confess; 
I am a-weary, and worn with woe; 
Many a grief doth my heart oppress, 
And haunt me whithersoever I go!' 

On bended knee spake the beautiful Maid; 
'Now lithe and listen, Lord Abbot, to me!'-- 
'Now naye, Fair Daughter,' the Lord Abbot said, 
'Now naye, in sooth it may hardly be; 

'There is Mess Michael, and holy Mess John, 
Sage Penitauncers I ween be they! 
And hard by doth dwell, in St. Catherine's cell, 
Ambrose, the anchorite old and grey!' 

'-- Oh, I will have none of Ambrose or John, 
Though sage Penitauncers I trow they be; 
Shrive me may none save the Abbot alone. 
Now listen, Lord Abbot, I speak to thee. 

'Nor think foul scorn, though mitre adorn 
Thy brow, to listen to shrift of mine. 
I am a Maiden royally born, 
And I come of old Plantagenet's line. 

'Though hither I stray in lowly array, 
I am a Damsel of high degree; 
And the Compte of Eu, and the Lord of Ponthieu, 
They serve my father on bended knee! 

'Counts a many, and Dukes a few, 
A suitoring came to my father's Hall; 
But the Duke of Lorraine, with his large domain, 
He pleased my father beyond them all. 

'Dukes a many, and Counts a few, 
I would have wedded right cheerfullie; 
But the Duke of Lorraine was uncommonly plain, 
And I vow'd that he ne'er should my bridegroom be! 

'So hither I fly, in lowly guise, 
From their gilded domes and their princely halls; 
Fain would I dwell in some holy cell, 
Or within some Convent's peaceful walls!' 

-- Then out and spake that proud Lord Abbot, 
'Now rest thee, Fair Daughter, withouten fear; 
Nor Count nor Duke but shall meet the rebuke 
Of Holy Church an he seek thee here: 

'Holy Church denieth all search 
'Midst her sanctified ewes and her saintly rams; 
And the wolves doth mock who would scathe her flock, 
Or, especially, worry her little pet lambs. 

'Then lay, Fair Daughter, thy fears aside, 
For here this day shalt thou dine with me!'-- 
'Now naye, now naye,' the fair maiden cried; 
'In sooth, Lord Abbot, that scarce may be! 

'Friends would whisper, and foes would frown, 
Sith thou art a Churchman of high degree, 
And ill mote it match with thy fair renown 
That a wandering damsel dine with thee! 

'There is Simon the Deacon hath pulse in store, 
With beans and lettuces fair to see; 
His lenten fare now let me share, 
I pray thee, Lord Abbot, in charitie!' 

--'Though Simon the Deacon hath pulse in store, 
To our patron Saint foul shame it were 
Should wayworn guest, with toil oppress'd, 
Meet in his abbey such churlish fare. 

'There is Peter the Prior, and Francis the Friar, 
And Roger the Monk shall our convives be; 
Small scandal I ween shall then be seen; 
They are a goodly companie!' 

The Abbot hath donn'd his mitre and ring, 
His rich dalmatic, and maniple fine; 
And the choristers sing as the lay-brothers bring 
To the board a magnificent turkey and chine. 

The turkey and chine, they are done to a nicety; 
Liver, and gizzard, and all are there: 
Ne'er mote Lord Abbot pronounce Benedicite 
Over more luscious or delicate fare. 

But no pious stave he, no Pater or Ave 
Pronounced, as he gazed on that maiden's face: 
She ask'd him for stuffing, she ask'd him for gravy, 
She ask'd him for gizzard;-- but not for Grace! 

Yet gaily the Lord Abbot smiled and press'd, 
And the blood-red wine in the wine-cup fill'd; 
And he help'd his guest to a bit of the breast, 
And he sent the drumsticks down to be grill'd. 

There was no lack of old Sherris sack, 
Of Hippocras fine, or of Malmsey bright; 
And aye, as he drained off his cup with a smack, 
He grew less pious and more polite. 

She pledged him once, and she pledged him twice, 
And she drank as a Lady ought not to drink; 
And he press'd her hand 'neath the table thrice, 
And he wink'd as an Abbot ought not to wink. 

And Peter the Prior, and Francis the Friar, 
Sat each with a napkin under his chin; 
But Roger the Monk got excessively drunk, 
So they put him to bed, and they tuck'd him in! 

The lay-brothers gazed on each other, amazed; 
And Simon the Deacon, with grief and surprise, 
As he peep'd through the key-hole could scarce fancy real 
The scene he beheld, or believe his own eyes. 

In his ear was ringing the Lord Abbot singing,-- 
He could not distinguish the words very plain, 
But 'twas all about 'Cole,' and