The Hermit of Gibralter
(A TRUE STORY) He died among the flowers, when dawn was leaping Like a freed lion through the sever'd east; 'Twere but a waste of tears to mourn him, sleeping White-hair'd and calm, his Bible on his breast. A poor old man—so runs the touching story— Lay at the point of death, and vow'd, in prayer, To do some work for God His Saviour's glory, If he were given back to this dear air. He was made whole; and, walking forth at even, Found rapture in the sky, the shore, the sea; And thought it passing strange that earth and heaven Should welcome him with such a jubilee. Unseen he climb'd the rock by paths forbidden, And found a terrace, till that hour untrod, And there began to frame a garden, hidden From human eyes, and only meant for God. There was no witness to his happy working, Save one mute Rose, unwearied watcher sweet, And nightingales among the shadows lurking, Waiting till he should rear them temples meet. No hand gave aid, no eye beheld him wander, Day after day with some fresh pleasant freight; Myrtle or jasmine, royal olëander, Or maiden lily, or mere violet; Till, like the work within that makes us holy By secret tears, and prayers, and toilsome hours, Not suddenly, but tenderly and slowly, The heart of stone became a nest of flowers; And sometimes, wafted to the pacing warden Like notes of broken music on the breeze, Faint odours, from the roses in the garden Came, blent with breathings of the orange-trees. Even so, perhaps—we little know how often— The fragrance of some unsuspected prayer, May steal about us on our path, and soften The harsher touches of life's common air. At length one follow'd on the viewless traces From scent to scent, and started to detect That fair flower-city in the rock's embraces, One grey-hair'd man, king, guardian, architect. The soldier had no choice, he dared not pardon, But took him from the haunt of peaceful years, Sad as that exile from a fairer garden, Who first unlock'd for earth the fount of tears. A voice from every leafy depth upbraided, A murmur from each bell, and star, and urn; “How can'st thou take him ere our bloom is faded? We have such treasures for him still! Return!” He went in grief; but every heart uncloses When the sweet story of his toil is known; And they restored him to his longing roses, And gave him all the garden for his own. A little chapel in the midst was builded, Fretted and gemm'd by Nature's lavish hand, With traceries flung from leaf and flower, and gilded By the perpetual sunlight of the land. There would he sit, and dream of flowers immortal Crowning pale foreheads with their glorious bloom, Not gather'd in the garden at his portal, But from a garden with a sealèd tomb. And once they came to take him home at even; But “let me sleep here once!” he gently said, And laid him down between the flowers and heaven, And there they found him in the morning, dead. None knew how Death came to him—softly, stilly, It sought him in the silence of the night, As the dew falls upon a closing lily, Infusing life, and making meet for light. But still his garden stands, a solemn pleasaunce Where languid hearts may breathe a little balm, And still it seems alive with the mute presence Of that past life, so innocent and calm. There the transparent stillness wooes reflection, There our repenting thoughts forgive the past, And cleanse the finer links of tried affection, If they be dimm'd by Time's corroding blast. There may we pray that when Death's hour hath found us, We may lie down, like him, to happy rest; Daybreak above, life's song and fragrance round us, And God's dear Word upon each faithful breast.
Menella Bute Smedley’s other poems:
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