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THE GIFT OF TRITEMIUS

by John Greenleaf Whittier


Tritemius of Herbipolis one day,
While kneeling at the altar's foot to pray,
Alone with God, as was his pious choice,
Heard from beneath a miserable voice,--
A sound that seemed of all sad things to tell,
As of a lost soul crying out of hell.

Thereat the Abbot rose, the chain whereby
His thoughts went upward broken by that cry,
And, looking from the casement, saw below
A wretched woman, with gray hair aflow,
And withered hands stretched up to him, who cried
For alms as one who might not be denied.

She cried: "For the dear love of Him who gave
His life for ours, my child from bondage save,
My beautiful, brave first-born, chained with slaves
In the Moor's galley, where the sun-smit waves
Lap the white walls of Tunis!" "What I can
I give," Tritemius said,--"my prayers." "O man
Of God!" she cried, for grief had made her bold,
"Mock me not so: I ask not prayers, but gold;
Words cannot serve me, alms alone suffice;
Even while I plead, perchance my first-born dies!"

"Woman!" Tritemius answered, "from our door
None go unfed; hence are we always poor.
A single soldo is our only store.
Thou hast our prayers; what can we give thee more?"

"Give me," she said, "the silver candlesticks
On either side of the great crucifix;
God well may spare them on His errands sped,
Or He can give you golden ones instead."

Then said Tritemius, "Even as thy word,
Woman, so be it; and our gracious Lord,
Who loveth mercy more than sacrifice,
Pardon me if a human soul I prize
Above the gifts upon His altar piled!
Take what thou askest, and redeem thy child."

But his hand trembled as the holy alms
He laid within the beggar's eager palms;
And as she vanished down the linden shade,
He bowed his head and for forgiveness prayed.

So the day passed; and when the twilight came
He rose to find the chapel all a-flame,
And, dumb with grateful wonder, to behold
Upon the altar candlesticks of gold!


The Atlantic Monthly; November 1857; "The Gift of Tritemius," by John Greenleaf Whittier; Volume 1, No. 1; page 62-63.
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