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Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

Rosa Mulholland

Sister Mary of the Love of God

THIS is the convent where they tend the sick,

Comfort the dying, make the ailing strong;

Covered, you see, with ivy, very thick;

Haunt of the birds, alive with bloom and song.

The happy sick are smiling in their beds,

The happy sisters flitting to and fro;

Ah, blessings on the wise and gentle heads

That planned this place a hundred years ago!

To build the walls a woman crossed the sea,

Travelled with tender feet a weary road.

I ’ll tell you now the little history

Of Sister Mary of the Love of God.

A lovely maiden of a high estate,

She danced away her days in careless glee;

A bird beside her window came and sate,

And piped and sang, “The Lord has need of thee!”

Deep in the night, when everything was still,

The restless dance, the music’s merry clang,

That bird would perch upon the window sill:

“The Lord hath need of thee,” it piped and sang.

She rose and fled her chamber in affright,

And roused with eager call the minstrel gray:

“The birds are singing strange things in the night;

Tune me, O minstrel, something blythe and gay!”

The minstrel struck his harp with ready power;

The laughing echoes wakened merrily;

The lady turned as white as lily-flower,—

The music trilled, “The Lord has need of thee!”

Her guests came round her and her ballroom blazed,

While lively footsteps on the floor did beat;

The lady led the dance with looks amazed,—

“The Lord doth need thee!” said the dancer’s feet.

The feast was spread, and flowed the rarest wine

In golden goblets clinking round the board;

The flashing cups from hand to hand did shine,

And rang and chaimed “Go, give thee to the Lord!”

Within her chamber long the lady sate,

Then raised her downcast face, all pale and sweet:

“There is a beggar lying at the gate—

Go, bring him in, that I may wash his feet.”

They looked upon her robes of satin sheen,

They looked upon her eyes so strange and glad;

They whispered, “She is not as she hath been;”

Her damsels wept, “Our lady hath gone mad!”

But in the night she stole away alone.

Then sang the minstrels many a mournful rhyme,

Till some forgot her as one never known,

And others said, “She hath some heavy crime.”

Ah me, it is a hundred years ago!—

This ivy on the walls is thick, you see;

The world would laugh if I should tell it so

Of Sister Mary’s little history.

Another dances in her shoes to-day;

One wears that gem of hers, another this;

But she is happy and the poor are gay,

The sick are smiling and the dead in bliss!