In the Certosa

Is it less lonely now? the lady asks,
Than in the old days ? Ah ! I cannot tell.
Time speeds when meted out in hourly tasks:
His feet fall soundless as one sits and basks
In silence, broken only by the bell.
Which was my cell? This, madame. Through that grate
Three times a day they shoved my food within,
Saying no word ; I, wordless, took and ate.
Was it not lonely ? Nay, what need to prate ?
The tongue is like a fire, and quick to sin.
What was my food ? (Strange that she questions so !)
Soup, madame, salad, artichokes, and such
Herbs as in convent gardens wont to grow:
For sickness ? — well, a drop of wine or so;
A little macaroni, but not much.
’T is very far to climb ! Yes, that is true.
Monks love high towers as rooks love tallest trees ;
They like sky spaces and a wide-spread view;
To sit secure above the damp and dew,
And smell the moist earth and the evening breeze.
Yes, all is changed: Fra Gian and I, and he
You see there weeding in the onion bed,
Alone are left of all our company.
And side by side in the refectory
We mutely sit and break our daily bread :
For rule is rule, though order be abused,
And each with each ’t is held and understood.
We keep our vow of silence as we used ;
Only with strangers is my tongue unloosed.
Pleasure? Far from it! Pardon, I am rude.
’T is hard at times the new law to obey,
And bitterness will mingle with the blood.
’T was strangely peaceful in that by-gone day :
Time did not run, but neither did he stay;
One week was like another, — all were good.
Slowly the years ripened from old to new ;
The fig-leaves budded on their bare, brown bough ;
Leaf-bud to leaf, flower-bud to blossom grew,
And blossom to ripe fruit before we knew ;
It did not make me restless then as now.
For then no fluttering robes swept carelessly
Down the long echoing and empty aisle ;
No children with sweet eyes stood wondering by,
Or questioned with gay voices curiously,
Following my steps with footfalls soft the while.
I had forgot what men and women were,
And what a child might be had quite forgot.
There is a sense of joyance and of stir
Which frets, and makes me question and demur
Whether the holy life is best or not.
The saints forgive ! What fiend has led me on ?
Retro, Satanas, retro,—get thee hence!
Grazie, Signori, ’t is the set of sun,
The angelus must ring. Addio, each one !
The poor monk thanks you for your recompense.
Susan Coolidge.