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Poem by Robert Southey

Old Christoval's Advice, and the Reason Why He Gave It

If thy debtor be poor, old Christoval said, 
      "Exact not too hardly thy due; 
For he who preserves a poor man from want 
      May preserve him from wickedness too. 
If thy neighbour should sin, old Christoval said, 
      Oh never unmerciful be; 
But remember it is through the mercy of God 
     That thou art not as sinful as he. 
At sixty-and-seven the hope of Heaven 
      Is my comfort through Gods good grace; 
My summons, in truth, had I perishd in youth, 
     Must have been to a different place. 
You shall have the farm, young Christoval, 
      My master Henrique said; 
But a surety provide, in whom I can confide, 
      That duly the rent shall be paid. 
I was poor, and I had not a friend upon earth, 
      And I knew not what to say; 
We stood in the porch of St. Andrews Church 
      And it was St. Isidros day. 
Take St. Isidro for my pledge, 
      I ventured to make reply, 
The Saint in Heaven may be my friend, 
      But friendless on earth am I. 
We enterd the Church, and went to his shrine, 
      And I fell on my bended knee, 
I am friendless, holy Isidro, 
      And therefore I call upon thee! 
I call upon thee my surety to be, 
      My purpose is honest and true; 
And if ever I break my plighted word, 
      O Saint, mayst thou make me rue! 
I was idle, and quarter-day came on, 
      And I had not the rent in store, 
I feard St. Isidros anger, 
      But I dreaded my landlord more. 
So on a dark night I took my flight 
      And stole like a thief away; 
It happend that by St. Andrews Church 
      The road I had chosen lay. 
As I past the Church door, I thought how I swore 
      Upon St. Isidros day; 
That the Saint was so near increased my fear, 
      And faster I hastend away. 
So all night long I hurried on, 
      Pacing full many a mile, 
And knew not his avenging hand 
      Was on me all the while. 
Weary I was, yet safe, I thought; 
      But when it was day-light 
I had I found been running round 
      And round the Church all night. 
I shook like a palsy, and fell on my knees, 
      And for pardon devoutly I prayd; 
When my master came up, What, Christoval, 
      You are here betimes! he said. 
I have been idle, good Master, said I, 
      Good Master, and I have done wrong; 
And I have been running round the Church 
      In penance all night long. 
If thou hast been idle, Henrique replied, 
      "Henceforth thy fault amend! 
I will not oppress thee, Christoval, 
      And the Saint may thy labour befriend. 
Homeward I went a penitent, 
      And from that day I idled no more; 
St. Isidro blessd my industry, 
      As he punishd my sloth before. 
When my debtor was poor, old Christoval said, 
     "I have never exacted my due; 
But remembering my master was good to me, 
      I copied his goodness too. 
When my neighbour hath sinnd, old Christoval said, 
      I judged not too hardly his sin, 
But thought of the night by St. Andrews Church, 
      And considerd what I might have been. 

Robert Southey

Robert Southey's other poems:
  1. For the Cenotaph at Ermenonville
  2. St. Bartholomews Day
  3. For a Tablet at Penshurst
  4. For a Tablet at Silbury Hill
  5. For a Monument at Taunton

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