Vitus came tripping over the grass
When all the leaves in the trees were green,
Through the green meadows he did pass
On the day he was full seventeen.
The lark was singing up over his head,
As he went by so lithe and fleet,
And the flowers danced in white and red
At the treading of his nimble feet.
His neck was as brown as the brown earth is
When first the young brown plough-boys delve it,
And his lips were as red as mulberries
And his eyes were like the soft black velvet.
His silk brown hair was touched with bronze,
And his brown cheeks had the tender hue
That like a dress the brown earth dons
When the pink carnations bloom anew.
He was slim as the reeds that sway all along
The banks of the lake, and as straight as a rush,
And as he passed he sang a song,
And his voice was as sweet as the voice of a thrush,
He sang of the Gardens of Paradise,
And the light of God that never grows dim,
And the cherubim with their radiant eyes,
And the rainbow wings of the Seraphim.
And the host as countless as all days,
That worships there, and ceases not,
Singing and praising God always,
With lute and flute and angelot.
And the blessed light of Mary’s face
As she sits among these pleasant sounds,
And Christ that is the Prince of Grace,
And the five red flowers that be His wounds.
And so he went till he came to the doors
Of the ivory house of his father the King,
And all through the golden corridors,
As he passed along, he ceased to sing.
But a pagan priest had seen him pass,
And heard his voice as he went along
Through the fields of the bending grass, –
And he heard the words of the holy song.
And he sought the King where he sat on his throne,
And the tears of wrath were in his eyes,
And he said, ‘ O Sire, be it known
That thy son singeth in this wise ;
‘Of the blessed light of Mary’s face
As she sits amidst sweet pleasant sounds,
And how that Christ is the Prince of Grace,
And hath five flowers that be His wounds.’
And when the King had heard this thing,
His brow grew black as a winter night,
And he bade the pages seek and bring
Straightway the prince before his sight.
And Vitus came before the King,
And the King cried out, ‘ I pray thee, son,
Sing now the song that thou didst sing
When thou cam’st through the fields anon.’
And the face of the prince grew white as milk,
And he answered nought, but under the band
That held his doublet of purple silk
Round his slight waist, he thrust his hand.
And the King picked up a spear, and cried,
‘ What hast thou there ? by the waters of Styx,
Speak or I strike,’ and the boy replied,
‘ Sweet Sire, it is a crucifix.’ .
And the King grew black with rage and grief,
And for a full moment he spake no word.
And the spear in his right hand shook like a leaf,
And the vein on his brow was a tight blue cord.
Then he laughed and said, in bitter scorn,
‘ Take me this Christian fool from my sight,
Lock him in the turret till the morn,
And let him dance alone to-night.
‘He shall sit in the dark while the courtly ball
All the gay night sweeps up and down
On the polished floor of the golden hall,
And thus shall he win his martyr’s crown.’
Thus spake the King, and the courtiers smiled,
And Vitus hung his head for shame ;
And he thought, ‘ I am punished like a child,
That would have died for Christ’s dear Name.’
And so ’twas done, and on that night,
While silk and sword, with fan and flower,
Danced in the hall in the golden light,
Prince Vitus sat in the lone dark tower.
But the King bethought him, and was moved,
Ere the short summer night was done,
And his heart’s blood yearned for the son he loved,
His dainty prince, his only son.
And all alone he climbed the stair,
With the tired feet of a sceptred King,
And came to the door, and lo ! he was ‘ware
Of the sound of flute and lute-playing.
And as the King stood there amazed,
The iron door flew open wide,
And the King fell down on his knees as he gazed
At the wondrous thing he saw inside.
For the room was filled with a soft sweet light
Of ambergris and apricot,
And round the walls were angels bright,
With lute and flute and angelot.
On lute and angelot they played,
With their gold heads bowed upon the strings,
And the soft wind that the slim flutes made,
Stirred in the feathers of their wings.
And in the midst serene and sweet
With God’s light on his countenance
Was Vitus, with his gold shod feet,
Dancing in a courtly dance.
And round him were archangels four,
Michael, who guards God’s citadel,
Raphael, whom children still implore,
And Gabriel and Uriel.
Thus long ago was Christ’s behest,
And the saving grace that His red wounds be,
Unto this king made manifest,
And all his land of Sicily.
God sits within the highest Heaven,
His mercy neither tires nor faints,
All good gifts that may be given,
He gives unto His holy Saints.
This was the joy that Vitus gat;
To dance with Angels knee by knee,
Before he came to man’s estate :
God send us all such Company.
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