The Devil And The Monk

A poem by Hanford Lennox Gordon

Once Satan and a monk went on a "drunk,"
And Satan struck a bargain with the monk,
Whereby the Devil's crew was much increased
By penceless poor and now and then a priest
Who, lacking cunning or good common sense,
Got caught in flagrante and out of pence.
Then in high glee the Devil filled a cup
And drank a brimming bumper to the pope:
Then "Here's to you," he said, "sober or drunk,
In cowl or corsets, every monk's a punk.
Whate'er they preach unto the common breed,
At heart the priests and I are well agreed.
Justice is blind we see, and deaf and old,
But in her scales can hear the clink of gold.
The convent is a harem in disguise,
And virtue is a fig-leaf for the wise
To hide the naked truth of lust and lecheries.

"And still the toilers feed the pious breed,
And pin their faith upon the bishop's sleeve;
Hungry for hope they gulp a moldy creed
And dine on faith. 'Tis easier to believe
An old-time fiction than to wear a tooth
In gnawing bones to reach the marrow truth.
Priests murder Truth and with her gory ghost
They frighten fools and give the rogues a roast
Until without or pounds or pence or price
Free as the fabled wine of paradise
They furnish priestly plates with buttered toast.
Your priests of superstition stalk the land
With Jacob's winning voice and Esau's hand;
Sinners to hell and saints to heaven they call,
And eat the fattest fodder in the stall.
They, versed in dead rituals in dead language deep,
Talk Greek to th' grex and Latin to their sheep,
And feed their flocks a flood of cant and college
For every drop of sense or useful knowledge."

"I beg your pardon," softly said the monk,
"I fear your Majesty is raving drunk.
I would be courteous."
But the Devil laughed
And slyly winked and sagely shook his head.
"My fawning dog," the sage satanic said,
"Wags not his tail for me but for my bread.
Brains rule to day as they have ruled for aye,
And craft grown craftier in this modern day
Still rides the fools, but in a craftier way;
And priestcraft lingers and survives its use;
What was a blessing once is now abuse:
Grown fat and arrogant on power and pelf,
The old-time shepherd has become a wolf
And only feeds his flocks to feast himself.
To clink of coin the pious juggler jumps,
For still he thinks, as in the days of old,
The key to holy heaven is made of gold,
That in the game of mortals money is trumps,
That golden darts will pierce e'en Virtue's shield,
And by the salve of gold all sins are healed.
So old Saint Peter stands outside the fence
With hand outstretched for toll of Peter-pence,
And sinners' souls must groan in Purgatory
Until they pay the admission-fee to glory.

"There was an honest poet once on earth
Who beat all other bardies at a canter;
Rob' Burns his mother called him at his birth.
Though handicapped by rum and much a ranter,
He won the madcap race in Tam O'Shanter.
He drove a spanking span from Scottish heather,
Strong-limbed, but light of foot as flea or feather
Rhyme and Reason, matched and yoked together,
And reined them with light hand and limber leather.
He wrote to me once on a time I mind it
A bold epistle and the poet signed it.
He thought to cheat "Auld Nickie" of his dues,
But who outruns the Devil casts his shoes;
And so at last from frolicking and drinkin',
'Some luckless hour' sent him to Hell 'alinkin'![CW]
Times had been rather dull in my dominion,
And all my imps like lubbers lay a snoring,
But Burns began to rhyme us his opinion,
And in ten minutes had all Hell aroaring.
Then Robbie pulled his book of poems out
And read us sundry satires from the book;
'Death and Doctor Hornbook' raised a shout
Till all the roof-tin on the rafters shook;
And when his 'Unco Guid' the bardie read
The crew all clapped their hands and yelled like mad;
But 'Holy Willie's Prayer' 'brought down the house'.
So I was glad to give the bard a pass
And a few pence for toll at Peter's gate;
For if the roof of Hell were made of brass
Bob Burns would shake it off as sure as fate.
I mind it well that poem on a louse!
'O wad some pow'r the giftie gie us,' Monk,
'To see oursels as others see us' drunk;
'It wad frae monie a blunder free us' list!
'And foolish notion.' Abbot, bishop, priest,
'What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e' you all,
'And ev'n devotion.' Cowls and robes would fall,
And sometimes leave a bishop but a beast,
And show a leper sore where erst they made a priest."

Not to be beat the jolly monk filled up
His silver mug with rare old Burgundy;
"Here's to your health," he said, "your Majesty"
And drained the brimming goblet at a gulp
"'For when the Devil was sick the Devil a monk would be;
But when the Devil got well a devil a monk was he.'
In vino veritas is true, no doubt
When wine goes in teetotal truth comes out.
To shake a little Shakespeare in the wine:
'Some rise by sin and some by virtue fall';
But in the realm of Fate, as I opine,
A devil a virtue is or sin at all.
'The Devil be damned' is what we preach, you know it
At mass and vespers, holy-bread and dinner:
From priest to pope, from pedagogue to poet,
We sanctify the sin and damn the sinner.
This poet Shakespeare, whom I read with pleasure,
Wrote once I think, in taking his own 'Measure':
'They say best men are molded out of faults,
And, for the most, become much more the better
For being a little bad.' The reason halts:
If read between the lines not by the letter
'Tis plain enough that Shakespeare was atrimmin'
His own unruly ship and furling sail
To meet a British tempest or a gale,
And keep cold water from his wine and women.
Now I'll admit, when he's a little mellow,
The Devil himself's a devilish clever fellow,
And, though his cheeks and paunch are somewhat shrunk,
He only lacks a cowl to make a monk.
Time is the mother of twins et hic et nunc;
Come, hood your horns and fill the mug abrimmin',
For we are cheek by jowl on wit and wine and women."

And so the monk and Devil filled the mug,
And quaffed and chaffed and laughed the night away;
And when the "wee sma" hours of night had come,
The monk slipped out and stole the abbot's rum;
And when the abbot came at break of day,
There cheek by jowl horns, hoofs, and hood they lay,
With open missal and an empty jug,
And broken beads and badly battered mug
In fond embrace dead drunk upon the rug.

Think not, wise reader, that the bard hath drunk
The wine that fumed these vagaries from the monk;
Nor, in the devil ethics thou hast read,
There spake the poet in the Devil's stead.
Let Virtue be our helmet and our shield,
And Truth our weapon weapon sharp and strong
And deadly to all error and all wrong.
Yea, armed with Truth, though rogues and rascals throng
The citadel of Virtue shall not yield,
For God's right arm of Truth prevails in every field.

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