Instead of writing new posts this Christmas week, Wheatstone's leaders selected poems or Scriptures to share. Blessings to you and yours!

Today's poem is "St. Martin and the Beggar" by Thom Gunn.

St. Martin and the Beggar

Martin sat young upon his bed

A budding cenobite,

Said ‘though I hold the principles

Of Christian life be right,

I cannot grow from them alone,

I must go out to fight.’

He traveled hard, he traveled far,

The light began to fail.

‘Is not this act of mine,’ he said,

‘A cowardly betrayal,

Should I not peg my nature down

With a religious nail?’

Wind scudded on the marshland,

And, dangling at his side,

His sword soon clattered under hail:

What could he do but ride?—

There was not shelter for a dog,

The garrison far ahead.

A ship that moves on darkness

He rode across the plain,

When a brawny beggar started up

Who pulled at his rein

And leant dripping with sweat and water

Upon the horse’s mane.

He glared into Martin’s eyes

With eyes more wild than bold;

His hair sent rivers down his spine;

Like a fowl packed to be sold

His flesh was grey. Martin said—

‘What, naked in this cold?

‘I have no food to give you,

Money would be a joke.’

Pulling his new sword form the sheath

He took his soldier’s cloak

And cut it in two equal parts

With a single stroke.

Grabbing one to his shoulders,

Pinning it with his chin,

The beggar dived into the dark,

And soaking to the skin

Martin went on slowly

Until he reached an inn.

One candle on the wooden table,

The food and drink were poor,

The woman hobbled off, he ate,

Then casually before

The table stood the beggar as

If he had used the door.

Now dry for hair and flesh had been

By warm airs fanned,

Still bare but round each muscled thigh

A single golden band,

His eyes now wild with love, he held

The half cloak in his hand.

‘You recognised the human need

Included yours, because

You did not hesitate, my saint,

To cut your cloak across;

But never since that moment

Did you regret the loss.

‘My enemies would have turned away,

My holy toadies would

Have given all the cloak and frozen

Conscious that they were good.

But you, being a saint of men,

Gave only what you could.’

St Martin stretched his hand out

To offer from his plate,

But the beggar vanished, thinking food

Like cloaks is needles weight.

Pondering on the matter,

St. Martin bent and ate.


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