Saint Matthew and the Angel, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1661
Summoned from offices and homes, we came.
By candle‑light we heard him sing;
We saw him with a delicate length of string
Hide coins and lag a paper through a flame;
I was amazed by what that man could do.
And later on, in broad daylight,
He made someone sit suddenly upright
Who had lain long dead, whose face was blue.
But most he would astonish us with talk.
The warm sad cadence of his voice,
His compassion, our terror of his choice,
Brought each of us both glad and mad to walk
Beside him in the hills after sundown.
He spoke of birds, of children, long
And rubbing tribulation without song
For the indigent and crippled of this town.
Ventriloquist and strolling mage, from us,
Respectable citizens, he took
The hearts and swashed them in an upland brook,
Calling them his, all men’s, anonymous.
..He gained a certain notoriety;
The magical outcome of such love
The State saw it could not at all approve
And sought to learn where when that man would be.
The people he had entertained stood by,
I was among them, but one whom
He harboured kissed him for the coppers’ doom,
Repenting later most most bitterly.
They ran him down and drove him up the hill.
He who had lifted but hearts stood
With thieves, performing still what tricks he could
For men to come, rapt in compassion still.
Great nonsense has been spoken of that time.
But I can tell you I saw then
A terrible darkness on the face of men,
His last astonishment; and now that I’m
Old I behold it as a young man yet.
None of us now knows what it means,
But to this day our loves and disciplines
Worry themselves there. We do not forget.
From “The Disciple,” a poem by John Berryman (1914-1972)