St. Regimund, e'er he became a saint,
Was much imbued with vulgar earthly taint;
E'er he renounced the honors of a Knight
And doffed his coat of mail and helmet bright,
For sober cassock and monastic hood,
Leaving the castle for the cloister rude,
And changed the banquet's sumptuous repast
For frugal crusts and the ascetic fast;
Forsook his charger and equipments for
The crucifix and sacerdotal war;
While yet with valiant sword and blazoned shield
He braved the dangers of the martial field,
Or sought the antlered trophies of the chase
In forest and sequestered hunting place;
Or, tiring of the hunt's exciting sport,
Enjoyed the idle pleasures of the court,
Whiling away the time with games of chance,
With music and the more voluptuous dance,
The hollow paths of vanity pursued,
Laughed, jested, swore, drank, danced, and even wooed;
No tongue more prone to questionable wit,
Nor chaste, when time and place demanded it;
His basso voice, both voluble and strong,
Excelled in wassail mirth and ribald song;
He swore with oaths most impious and unblest;
Ate much, drank more, on these lines did his best;
Caroused by day, caroused by candle light,
In fact behaved like any other knight.
This medieval knight (the legend saith)
For months would scarcely draw a sober breath;
But as his appetite grew more and more
Drank each day worse than on the day before;
Was drunk all night, all day continued so,
Indulged in every vice he chanced to know.
But long debauch and riotous excess
Reduce their strongest votaries to distress;
When nature can the strain no longer stand
She chastens with a sure and irate hand,
So when the day of reckoning had come,
She smote with fever and delirium
This valiant knight whom we have tried to paint;
A very slim foundation for a saint!
The crisis reached, his fever stricken brain
Surrendered reason to excessive pain;
Nor moment's respite, comatose and kind,
Relieved the raging furnace of his mind;
And gruesome spectres, awful and unreal,
Through his disordered vagaries would steal;
When last his scorching temples sought repose
In hasty nap or intermittent doze,
His eyes beheld, though starting from his head,
A grizzly figure leaning o'er his bed,
With aspect foul beyond descriptive word,
As one for months in sepulchre interred,
Restored again to animated breath,
A weird composite type of life and death;
With countenance most hideous and vile,
Leering with ghastly and unearthly smile;
Pointing its shriveled finger, as in scorn,
Of mockery and accusation born.
As he beheld in terror and surprise
This gruesome shape which mocked before his eyes
He could distinguish in its haughty mien
A bearing, something as his own had been;
Nor had its withered visage quite the look
Of vampire, ghoul or evanescent spook;
And as the apparition o'er him bent,
He saw that every seam or lineament,
Contour of feature, prominence of bone,
Bore all a striking semblance to his own.
The horror stricken knight essayed to speak,
But words responded tremulous and weak,
And mustering his dissipated strength,
A sitting posture he assumed at length,--
"Whate'er thou art, thou harbinger of gloom,
Thou fiend or ghoul, fresh from the new made tomb,
Thou vampire, diabolical and fell,
Thou stygian shade or denizen of hell,
I charge thee, thing of evil, to confess
Why thou hast thus disturbed my sore distress.
Why hast thou burst my chamber's bolted door
Where guest unbidden never trod before?
Break this suspense, so horrible and still!
Declare thy tidings, be they good or ill,
Be thou from Heaven or from the realms below.
I charge thee speak, be thou a friend or foe;
Break thou thy silence, ominous and deep,
Or hence! Pursue thy way and let me sleep!"
The grizzly spectre, still more ghastly grown,
Surveyed with visage obdurate as stone,
Then smiled with grimace of derisive craft,
And in a most repugnant manner, laughed,
But all the knight discerned with eye and ear,
Was his own maudlin laugh and drunken leer.
"Breathe thou thy message," shrieked the frantic knight
"Discharge thy purpose, though it blast and blight,
I charge thee, speak, by all that is most fair.
By all most foul, I charge thee to declare;
By my bright armor and my trusty sword;
I charge thee, speak, by Holy Rood and Word!"
He sank exhausted, in such pallid fright
The snowy sheets looked dark beside such white.
The spectre paused in silence for awhile,
Then broke into a most repulsive smile,
And answered in a weird and hollow tone,
Enough to freeze the marrow in the bone:
"I am thy blasted spirit's counterpart,
A body fit for thy most evil heart,
I am thy life, its psychic image sent
To bear thee company, till thou repent."
'Tis said, for forty days the spectre stayed.
For forty days the knight incessant prayed;
With scourge, with vigil and ascetic rite,
With fast, with groan remorseful and contrite,
He cleansed his blackened spirit by degrees,
And purified it from its vanities;
And as he prayed, the spectre's gruesome scowl
Grew day by day less hideous and foul,
As he waxed holy, it became more bright;
And after forty days, arrayed in white
It spread its spotless arms, devoid of taint
Above this erstwhile knight and henceforth saint
In benediction, as he knelt in prayer,--
Then vanished instantly to empty air.
Such is the tale, embellished by the Muse,
'Tis true or false, believe it as you choose;
Some folks accept the story out and out,
While some prefer to entertain a doubt.
But if it be fictitious and unreal,
'Tis not subscribed and sworn, and bears no seal;
It points a moral, as the legend old,
If it conveys it, 'twas not vainly told,
For should I such an apparition see--
I think t'would almost make a monk of me.