Charlotte Smith

4 May 1749 – 28 October 1806 / London

Saint Monica

AMONG deep woods is the dismantled scite
Of an old Abbey, where the chaunted rite,
By twice ten brethren of the monkish cowl,
Was duly sung; and requiems for the soul
Of the first founder: For the lordly chief,
Who flourish'd paramount of many a fief,
Left here a stipend yearly paid, that they,
The pious monks, for his repose might say
Mass and orisons to Saint Monica.

Beneath the falling archway overgrown
With briars, a bench remains, a single stone,
Where sat the indigent, to wait the dole
Given at the buttery; that the baron's soul
The poor might intercede for; there would rest,
Known by his hat of straw with cockles drest,
And staff and humble weed of watchet gray,
The wandering pilgrim; who came there to pray
The intercession of Saint Monica.
Stern Reformation and the lapse of years
Have reft the windows, and no more appears
Abbot or martyr on the glass anneal'd;
And half the falling cloisters are conceal'd

By ash and elder: the refectory wall
Oft in the storm of night is heard to fall,
When, wearied by the labours of the day,
The half awaken'd cotters, starting say,
'It is the ruins of Saint Monica.'
Now with approaching rain is heard the rill,
Just trickling thro' a deep and hollow gill
By osiers, and the alder's crowding bush,
Reeds, and dwarf elder, and the pithy rush,
Choak'd and impeded: to the lower ground
Slowly it creeps; there traces still are found
Of hollow squares, embank'd with beaten clay,
Where brightly glitter'd in the eye of day
The peopled waters of Saint Monica.

The chapel pavement, where the name and date,
Or monkish rhyme, had mark'd the graven plate,
With docks and nettles now is overgrown;
And brambles trail above the dead unknown.­
Impatient of the heat, the straggling ewe
Tinkles her drowsy bell, as nibbling slow
She picks the grass among the thistles gray,
Whose feather'd seed the light air bears away,
O'er the pale relicks of Saint Monica.
Reecho'd by the walls, the owl obscene
Hoots to the night; as thro' the ivy green
Whose matted tods the arch and buttress bind,
Sobs in low gusts the melancholy wind:

The Conium there, her stalks bedropp'd with red,
Rears, with Circea, neighbour of the dead;
Atropa too, that, as the beldams say,
Shews her black fruit to tempt and to betray,
Nods by the mouldering shrine of Monica.
Old tales and legends are not quite forgot.
Still Superstition hovers o'er the spot,
And tells how here, the wan and restless sprite,
By some way-wilder'd peasant seen at night,
Gibbers and shrieks, among the ruins drear;
And how the friar's lanthorn will appear
Gleaming among the woods, with fearful ray,
And from the church-yard take its wavering way,
To the dim arches of Saint Monica.

The antiquary comes not to explore,
As once, the unrafter'd roof and pathless floor;
For now, no more beneath the vaulted ground
Is crosier, cross, or sculptur'd chalice found,
Nor record telling of the wassail ale,
What time the welcome summons to regale,
Given by the matin peal on holiday,
The villagers rejoicing to obey,
Feasted, in honour of Saint Monica.
Yet often still at eve, or early morn,
Among these ruins shagg'd with fern and thorn,
A pensive stranger from his lonely seat
Observes the rapid martin, threading fleet

The broken arch: or follows with his eye,
The wall-creeper that hunts the burnish'd fly;
Sees the newt basking in the sunny ray,
Or snail that sinuous winds his shining way,
O'er the time-fretted walls of Monica.
He comes not here, from the sepulchral stone
To tear the oblivious pall that Time has thrown,
But meditating, marks the power proceed
From the mapped lichen, to the plumed weed,
From thready mosses to the veined flower,
The silent, slow, but ever active power
Of Vegetative Life, that o'er Decay
Weaves her green mantle, when returning May
Dresses the ruins of Saint Monica.

Oh Nature ! ever lovely, ever new,
He whom his earliest vows has paid to you
Still finds, that life has something to bestow;
And while to dark Forgetfulness they go,
Man, and the works of man; immortal Youth,
Unfading Beauty, and eternal Truth,
Your Heaven-indited volume will display,
While Art's elaborate monuments decay,
Even as these shatter'd aisles, deserted Monica !
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