After An Old Legend

Poem By George MacDonald

The monk was praying in his cell,
With bowed head praying sore;
He had been praying on his knees
For two long hours and more.

As of themselves, all suddenly,
His eyelids opened wide;
Before him on the ground he saw
A man's feet close beside;

And almost to the feet came down
A garment wove throughout;
Such garment he had never seen
In countries round about!

His eyes he lifted tremblingly
Until a hand they spied:
A chisel-scar on it he saw,
And a deep, torn scar beside.

His eyes they leaped up to the face,
His heart gave one wild bound,
Then stood as if its work were done-
The Master he had found!

With sudden clang the convent bell
Told him the poor did wait
His hand to give the daily bread
Doled at the convent-gate.

Then Love rose in him passionate,
And with Duty wrestled strong;
And the bell kept calling all the time
With merciless iron tongue.

The Master stood and looked at him
He rose up with a sigh:
'He will be gone when I come back
I go to him by and by!'

He chid his heart, he fed the poor
All at the convent-gate;
Then with slow-dragging feet went back
To his cell so desolate:

His heart bereaved by duty done,
He had sore need of prayer!
Oh, sad he lifted the latch!-and, lo,
The Master standing there!

He said, 'My poor had not to stand
Wearily at thy gate:
For him who feeds the shepherd's sheep
The shepherd will stand and wait.'

Yet, Lord-for thou would'st have us judge,
And I will humbly dare-
If he had staid, I do not think
Thou wouldst have left him there.

Thy voice in far-off time I hear,
With sweet defending, say:
'The poor ye always have with you,
Me ye have not alway!'

Thou wouldst have said: 'Go feed my poor,
The deed thou shalt not rue;
Wherever ye do my father's will
I always am with you.'

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