The Monk and the Faun [poem by Louis Esson]

[Editor: This poem by Louis Esson was published in Red Gums and Other Verses (1912).]

The Monk and the Faun.

Clear tolled the urgent matin bell.
Fra Angelo, with downward glance,
Thrice crossed himself, and left the cell,
All in the morning’s radiance,
To grub the garden round the well.

* * *

With girdle hempen, sandals thin,
He passed, and tonsured pate entangled
With heavy thought of mortal sin,
A mattock on his arm, where dangled
Down to his knees, a discipline.

* * *

Birds warbled in the trembling air
That blessed the day with lilac breath.
But tho’ God made the world so fair
The joy of earth, the peace of death
Nor beauty moved him unaware.

* * *

There was a garden past the lawn
And deep he delved there, healing toil,
The soul from subtle snares withdrawn,
When lo! beneath the shovelled soil
Laughing, there lurked a marble faun.

A faun his blade had cast aside,
Greek, flawless — by an artist carved —
With wicked eyes and lips stretched wide
Greedy for life, with no soul starved
Or sprightly body mortified.

* * *

The old monk paused, and looked askance,
Recalling half-forgotten sins,
His Pagan youth, the song and dance,
The flutes and feasting, prickt wine-skins,
And Roman revel and romance.

* * *

Once mortals danced with ivy crowned
In that old wicked world where Pan
Piped in the wild-wood, limbs embrowned
Naked, with wind and wave, when man
Knew not of Heaven the gay year round.

* * *

So muttering Aves, to and fro
Perturbed to face Temptation’s tricks,
Pacing the lawn, Fra Angelo
Clasped tight his wooden crucifix,
And from the garden turned to go

* * *

O Miserere domine!
Around the holy well, with dim
And startled eyes he chanced to see
A sly faun dancing, luring him
To love the earth, life, vanity.

* * *

With faltering hands he seized the god
Who kindled in the soul wild fire,
And buried safe beneath the sod
The brown faun, that was the earth’s desire,
And heavy hearted backward trod.

* * *

In an old Latin book is drawn
As headpiece to a curious tale
A cloistered garden, where a faun
Pipes, and to song of nightingale
A grey monk dances on the lawn.

* * *

When dusk descends, day’s duty done,
For God’s sweet gifts of peace and mirth
Now prays the monk, enticed by one
Who loved the earth, the warm wild earth,
And loved the sun, the laughing sun.



Source:
Louis Esson, Red Gums and Other Verses, Melbourne: Fraser & Jenkinson, 1912, pages 20-22

Editor’s notes:
Ave = a reference to Ave Maria: (Latin) “Hail Mary”; “Ave Maria” is a well-known Catholic prayer to the Virgin Mary, which begins with the line “Hail Mary, full of grace”; “Ave Maria” is also a famous song by the Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828), as part of his Opus 52 (1825), which he based upon the well-known epic poem “The Lady of the Lake” (1810) by the Scottish author Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

faun = in Roman mythology, fauns were forest gods or place-spirits, depicted as half-man and half-goat (like the satyrs of Greek mythology)

miserere domine = (Latin) “Lord have mercy”

Pan = in Greek mythology, Pan was the god of shepherds, hunting, and music

pate = the top of the head (the crown of the head); the head (may also refer to the brain)

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