Playing on a harp of gold,
So to me was Christ's evangel
In the days of old.
Thus across the lake of Constance
Went I forth to preach His Word,
And beside me sat the squire
Of a noble lord.
None in all the ship so knightly,
None so bravely dight as he --
"Tell me," I besought, "thine errand
Yonder o'er the sea."
"I go forth," he said, "to gather
Many a knight and noble bold,
They shall tilt at joust and tourney,
Whilst fair eyes behold.
And the bravest and the noblest
He shall win a glorious prize,
Smiles to boot and courtly favour,
In the ladies' eyes."
"Tell me, what shall be the guerdon?"
"Lo, the fairest in the land
Sets a gold ring on his finger,
With her lily hand."
"Tell me, how the knight may win it?"
"Scars and bruises must he boast,
For the knight shall be the winner
Who endureth most."
"Tell me, if when first assaulted,
He in knightly guise shall stand,
Shall he win the golden guerdon
From his lady's hand?"
"Nay, right on, till all is over,
Must a worthy knight hold on;
Bear the brunt, and stand a conqueror,
When the fight is done."
"And if he be wounded sorely,
May he weep, and may he mourn?"
"Nay, in place of winning honour,
He would win but scorn."
Then my spirit sank within me,
And within my heart I spake,
"O my Lord, thus fight the knightly
For their honour's sake.
Small the prize, and stern the battle,
Worthless gain, and weary fight --
Lord, a ring of stones most precious
Hast Thou for Thy knight!
Oh to be the knight of Jesus!
Scorning pain, and shame, and loss;
There the crown, the joy, the glory,
Here, O Lord, Thy cross."
Then I wept for bitter longing
Thus the knight of God to be;
And the Lord, who saw me weeping,
Gave the cross to me.
Bitter pain, and shame, and sorrow,
Came upon me as a flood --
I forgot it was the tourney
Of the knights of God.
And again I wept, beseeching,
"Take away the cross from me!"
Till a light broke like the morning
Over the wild sea.
Then there spake the voice beloved,
Still and sweet my heart within;
"Is it thus, O knight of Jesus,
Thou the prize wilt win?"
"O my Lord, the fight is weary --
Weary, and my heart is sore."
"And," He answered, "fair the guerdon,
And forever more."
"I have shamed Thee, craven-hearted,
I have been Thy recreant knight --
Own me yet, O Lord, albeit
Weeping whilst I fight."
"Nay," He said, "yet wilt thou shame Me?
Wilt thou shame thy knightly guise?
I would have My angels wonder
At Thy gladsome eyes.
Need'st thou pity, knight of Jesus?
Pity for thy glorious hest?
On! let God, and men and angels,
See that thou art blest."
BUT the Lord did not leave His servant to wander on in the way of his own inventions.
"God taught him," he says at last, "that he would not have these things of his own devisings, and He commanded him to cease from his tortures, and to leave it to God to teach him a more excellent way." Thereupon he cast his leathern gloves, and his shirt, and his belt, and all his instruments of torture, into the water that flowed past the convent walls. And he sat still awhile, and began to think within his heart, how pure is the truth that is taught by Christ Himself.
And he spake to himself and said, "Look within, dear friend, and there thou wilt find thyself, and thine own will. And observe, that with all thine outside penances and torments, which proceeded from thine own mind, thou art as unwilling as ever to bear the contradiction to thy will that comes from other men. Thou art like a frightened hare, that lies hidden in a bush, and shakes and trembles at every leaf that stirs; thou art living in constant fear all day and every day, of things that might betide. Thou turnest pale if thou seest one of those who hate thee. If thou hast to submit to another, thou wilt go out of his way. If thou shouldst come forward, thou hidest thyself; if thou art praised, it gives thee joy; if thou art reproached, it gives thee pain. It may indeed be too true that thou needest a higher school than that in which thou hast hither been." And then did he look up to God and say, "Alas, Lord! how plainly hast Thou set before me the unwelcome truth! Alas, alas! when shall I ever come to the end of my evil self!"
There followed after this a time of temptation from the evil one, and from his own natural heart. For when he was forbidden by the Lord to lead the life of torment which had nearly worn out his strength, his heart was glad, and he said, "Now may I have an easy life, and comfort and enjoyment. I may now drink wine and water, and suffer no more from thirst. I may lie without my gloves and belt upon my sack of straw, and sleep sweetly all night long. I have laboured long, and wearied soul and body. I thought I should never rest again till my time was come to depart and to be with Christ. And now may I rest and be satisfied."
But the Lord spake to him as it were in a parable, and showed him in his mind the shoes and armour that knights are wont to wear. And He said to him: "Thou hast been but a servant heretofore, and now shalt thou be a knight." And he answered the Lord and said, "Why must I be a knight? for I seek for rest and ease. But if I must be a knight of God, it were better to gain my knighthood by fight and fray, and the honour and the glory would be greater." But the Lord said to him: "Fear not, for as to the fight and fray, thou shalt have enough and to spare. Thou thoughtest that because thy torments are over, thou art now to take thine ease. But God has not withdrawn thy neck from the yoke. He has but laid upon thee another yoke, and it may be thou wilt find it a heavier one to the flesh. For the Lord will try thee with sickness and trouble, and temptation, and search and prove thy heart and ways in His own wisdom, and according to His own will."
And he asked the Lord how many sorrows he yet must bear. And the Lord said, "Look up to Heaven above thee. If thou canst count the stars, that are unnumbered, so mayest thou count the sorrows that are yet to come. And as the stars seem small, and yet are very great, so shall thy sorrows seem small to the men who know not the ways of God, and yet to thee they shall be great, and hard to endure."
And he prayed to the Lord to spare him these troubles that were yet to come. But if it were His will that he should suffer, he besought that the Lord would fulfil all His counsels, and complete His work.
And now began for him a life in which he was to learn far more of the grace and power of the Beloved of his soul. He had been shown how, through all these years of penance, self had been left enthroned in his heart, and that he had been seeking to win for himself the "honour and glory," which belonged to Christ alone.
He had been looking to himself, to his works and penances, instead of to Christ, for the power and the victory which are given to faith. He had been weighed down and fettered by the armour of Saul, and henceforward he was to be armed with the pebble of the brook, and to go forward in the name of the Lord of Hosts alone.