St. Martin and the Beggar (Thom Gunn)


Bij Sint Maarten


St. Martinszug vor dem Düsseldorfer Rathaus door Heinrich Hermanns, 1905



St. Martin and the Beggar

Martin sat young upon his bed
A budding cenobite,
Said ‘though I hold the principles
Of Christian life be right,
I cannot grow from them alone,
I must go out to fight.’

He traveled hard, he traveled far,
The light began to fail.
‘Is not this act of mine,’ he said,
‘A cowardly betrayal,
Should I not peg my nature down
With a religious nail?’

Wind scudded on the marshland,
And, dangling at his side,
His sword soon clattered under hail:
What could he do but ride?—
There was not shelter for a dog,
The garrison far ahead.

A ship that moves on darkness
He rode across the plain,
When a brawny beggar started up
Who pulled at his rein
And leant dripping with sweat and water
Upon the horse’s mane.

He glared into Martin’s eyes
With eyes more wild than bold;
His hair sent rivers down his spine;
Like a fowl packed to be sold
His flesh was grey. Martin said—
‘What, naked in this cold?

‘I have no food to give you,
Money would be a joke.’
Pulling his new sword form the sheath
He took his soldier’s cloak
And cut it in two equal parts
With a single stroke.

Grabbing one to his shoulders,
Pinning it with his chin,
The beggar dived into the dark,
And soaking to the skin
Martin went on slowly
Until he reached an inn.

One candle on the wooden table,
The food and drink were poor,
The woman hobbled off, he ate,
Then casually before
The table stood the beggar as
If he had used the door.

Now dry for hair and flesh had been
By warm airs fanned,
Still bare but round each muscled thigh
A single golden band,
His eyes now wild with love, he held
The half cloak in his hand.

‘You recognised the human need
Included yours, because
You did not hesitate, my saint,
To cut your cloak across;
But never since that moment
Did you regret the loss.

‘My enemies would have turned away,
My holy toadies would
Have given all the cloak and frozen
Conscious that they were good.
But you, being a saint of men,
Gave only what you could.’

St Martin stretched his hand out
To offer from his plate,
But the beggar vanished, thinking food
Like cloaks is needles weight.
Pondering on the matter,
St. Martin bent and ate.


Thom Gunn (29 augustus 1929 – 25 april 2004)
St. George’s church in Gravesend, de geboorteplaats van Thom Gunn



Zie voor de schrijvers van de 11e november ook mijn twee vorige blogs van vandaag.