The Young Friar

by Alfred Noyes

When leaves broke out on the wild briar,
And bells for matins rung,
Sorrow came to the old friar
– Hundreds of years ago it was! –
And May came to the young.

The old was ripening for the sky,
The young was twenty-four.
The Franklin’s daughter passed him by,
Reading a painted missal-book,
Beside the chapel door.

With brown cassock and sandalled feet,
And red Spring wine for blood;
The very next noon he chanced to meet
The Franklin’s daughter, in a green May twilight,
Walking through the wood.

Pax vobiscum – to a maid
The crosiered ferns among!
But hers was only the Saxon,
And his the Norman tongue;
And the Latin taught by the old friar
Made music for the young.

And never a better deed was done
By Mother Church below
Than when she made old England one,
– Hundreds of years ago it was! –
Hundreds of years ago.

Rich was the painted page they read
Before that sunset died;
Nut-brown hood by golden head,
Murmuring Rosa Mystica,
While nesting thrushes cried.

A Saxon maid with flaxen hair,
And eyes of Sussex grey;
A young monk out of Normandy: –
“May is our Lady’s month,” he said,
“And O, my love, my May!”

Then over the fallen missal-book
The missel-thrushes sung
Till – Domus Aurea – rose the moon
And bells for vespers rung.
It was gold and blue for the old friar,
But hawthorn for the young.

For gown of green and brown hood,
Before that curfew tolled,
Had flown for ever through the wood
– Hundreds of years ago it was! –
But twenty summers old.

And empty stood his chapel stall,
Empty his thin grey cell,
Empty her seat in the Franklin’s hall;
And there were swords that searched for them
Before the matin bell.

And, crowders tell, a sword that night
Wrought them an evil turn,
And that the may was not more white
Than those white bones the robin found
Among the roots of fern.

But others tell of stranger things
Half-heard on Whitsun eves,
Of sweet and ghostly whisperings –
Though hundreds of years ago it was –
Among the ghostly leaves: –

Sero te amavi
Grey eyes of sun-lit dew! –
Tam antiqua, tam nova
Augustine heard it, too.
Late have I loved that May, Lady,
So ancient, and so new!

And no man knows where they were flown,
For the wind takes the may:
But white and fresh the may was blown
– Though hundreds of years ago it was –
As this that blooms to-day.

And the leaves break out on the wild briar,
And bells must still be rung;
But sorrow comes to the old friar,
For he remembers a May, a May,
When his old heart was young.