Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Nuns of the Perpetual Adoration

by Ernest Dowson

Calm, sad, secure; behind high convent walls,
These watch the sacred lamp, these watch and pray:
And it is one with them when evening falls,
And one with them the cold return of day.

These heed not time; their nights and days they make
Into a long returning rosary,
Whereon their lives are threaded for Christ's sake;
Meekness and vigilance and chastity.

A vowed patrol, in silent companies,
Life-long they keep before the living Christ.
In the dim church, their prayers and penances
Are fragrant incense to the Sacrificed.

Outside, the world is wild and passionate;
Man's weary laughter and his sick despair
Entreat at their impenetrable gate:
They heed no voices in their dream of prayer.

They saw the glory of the world displayed;
They saw the bitter of it, and the sweet;
They knew the roses of the world should fade,
And be trod under by the hurrying feet.

Therefore they rather put away desire,
And crossed their hands and came to sanctuary
And veiled their heads and put on coarse attire:
Because their comeliness was vanity.

And there they rest; they have serene insight
Of the illuminating dawn to be:
Mary's sweet Star dispels for them the night,
The proper darkness of humanity.

Calm, sad, secure; with faces worn and mild:
Surely their choice of vigil is the best?
Yea! for our roses fade, the world is wild;
But there, beside the altar, there is rest.

* * *

I'm coming to like Ernest Dowson. His most famous poem is probably "Non Sum Qualis Eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae," from which is taken the title of Gone with the Wind. He was a friend of Yeats and rather wild, though he eventually converted to Catholicism. More of his poems can be found here.

I think a wild person like Dowson is the ideal person to appreciate the nuns' choice. He knew how brief were the roses of this present life, and craved the peace and security the nuns had in God.

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