Rahere, King Henry’s jester, feared by all the Norman Lords
For his eye that pierced their bosoms, for his tongue that shamed their swords;
Feed and flattered by the Churchmen, well they knew how deep he stood
In dark Henry’s crooked counsels, fell upon an evil mood.
Suddenly, his days before him and behind him seemed to stand
Stripped and barren, fixed and fruitless, as those leagues of naked sand
When St. Michael’s ebb slinks outward to the bleak horizon-bound,
And the trampling wide-mouthed waters are withdrawn from sight and sound.
Then a Horror of Great Darkness sunk his spirit and, anon,
(Who had seen him wince and whiten as he turned to walk alone)
Followed Gilbert the Physician, and muttered in his ear,
‘Thou hast it, O my brother?’ ‘Yea, I have it,’ said Rahere.
‘So it comes,’ said Gilbert smoothly, ‘man’s most immanent distress.
’Tis a humour of the Spirit which abhorreth all excess;
And, whatever breed the surfeit, Wealth, or Wit, or Power, or Fame
(And thou hast each) the Spirit laboureth to expel the same.
‘Hence the dulled eye’s deep self-loathing hence the loaded leaden brow;
Hence the burden of Wanhope that aches thy soul and body now.
Ay, the merriest fool must face it, and the wisest Doctor learn;
For it comes, it comes,’ said Gilbert, ‘as it passes, to return.’
But Rahere was in his torment, and he wandered, dumb and far,
Till he came to reeking Smithfield where the crowded gallows are,
(Followed Gilbert the Physician) and beneath the wry-necked dead,
Sat a leper and his woman, very merry, breaking bread.
He was cloaked from chin to ankle, faceless, fingerless, obscene
Mere corruption swaddled man-wise, but the woman whole and clean;
And she waited on him crooning, and Rahere beheld the twain,
Each delighting in the other, and he checked and groaned again.
‘So it comes,, it comes,’ said Gilbert, ‘as it came when Life began.
’Tis a motion of the Spirit that revealeth God to man
In the shape of Love exceeding, which regards not taint or fall,
Since in perfect Love, saith Scripture, can be no excess at all.
‘Hence the eye that sees no blemish, hence the hour that holds no shame.
Hence the Soul assured the Essence and the Substance are the same.
Nay, the meanest need not miss it, though the mightier pass it by;
For it comes, it comes,’ said Gilbert, ‘and, thou seest, it does not die!’