English poetry

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Of St. Francis and the Ass

Our father, ere he went
Out with his brother, Death,
Smiling and well-content
As a bridegroom goeth,
Sweetly forgiveness prayed
From man or beast whom he
Had ever injured
Or burdened needlessly.

‘Verily,’ then said he,
‘I crave before I pass
Forgiveness full and free
Of my little brother, the ass.
Many a time and oft,
When winds and ways were hot,
He hath borne me cool and soft
And service grudged me not.

‘And once did it betide
There was, unseen of me,
A gall upon his side
That suffered grievously.
And once his manger was
Empty and bare, and brown.
(Praise God for sweet, dry grass
That Bethlehem folk shook down! )

‘Consider, brethren,’ said he,
‘Our little brother; how mild,
How patient, he will be,
Though men are fierce and wild.
His coat is gray and fine,
His eyes are kind with love;
This little brother of mine
Is gentle as the dove.

‘Consider how such an one
Beheld our Saviour born,
And carried him, full-grown,
Through Eastern streets one morn.
For this the Cross is laid
Upon him for a sign.
Greatly is honourèd
This little brother of mine.’

And even while he spake,
Down in his stable stall
His little ass ‘gan shake
And turned its face to the wall.
Down fell the heavy tear;
Its gaze so mournful was,
Fra Leo, standing near,
Pitied the little ass.

That night our father died,
All night the kine did low:
The ass went heavy-eyed,
With patient tears and slow.
The very birds on wings
Made mournful cries in the air.
Amen! all living things
Our father’s brethern were.


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Poem Of St. Francis and the Ass - Katharine Tynan