The Pope

Like to Ahasuerus, that shrewd prince,
I will begin,—as is, these seven years now,
My daily wont,—and read a History
(Written by one whose deft right hand was dust
To the last digit, ages ere my birth)
Of all my predecessors, Popes of Rome:
For though mine ancient early dropped the pen,
Yet others picked it up and wrote it dry,
Since of the making books there is no end.
And so I have the Papacy complete (10)
From Peter first to Alexander last;
Can question each and take instruction so.
Have I to dare,—I ask, how dared this Pope?
To suffer? Suchanone, how suffered he?
Being about to judge, as now, I seek
How judged once, well or ill, some other Pope;
Study some signal judgment that subsists
To blaze on, or else blot, the page which seals
The sum up of what gain or loss to God
Came of His one more Vicar in the world. (20)
So, do I find example, rule of life;
So, square and set in order the Next page,
Shall be stretched smooth o’er my own funeral cyst.

Eight hundred years exact before the year
I was made Pope, men made Formosus Pope,
Say Sigebert and other chroniclers.
Ere I confirm or quash the Trial here
Of Guido Franceschini and his friends,
Read,—how there was a ghastly Trial once
Of a dead man by a live man, and both, Popes: (30)
Thus—in the antique penman’s very phrase.

“Then Stephen, Pope and seventh of the name,
“Cried out, in synod as he sat in state,
“While choler quivered on his brow and beard,
“‘Come into court, Formosus, thou lost wretch,
“‘That claimedst to be late the Pope as I !’

“And at the word, the great door of the church
“Flew wide, and in they brought Formosus’ self,
“The body of him, dead, even as embalmed
“And buried duly in the Vatican (40)
“Eight months before, exhumed thus for the nonce.
“They set it, that dead body of a Pope,
“Clothed in pontific vesture now again,
“Upright on Peter’s chair as if alive.
“And Stephen, springing up, cried furiously
“‘Bishop of Porto, wherefore didst presume
“‘To leave that see and take this Roman see,
“‘Exchange the lesser for the greater see,
“‘—A thing against the canons of the Church?’

“Then one (a Deacon who, observing forms, (50)
“Was placed by Stephen to repel the charge,
“Be advocate and mouthpiece of the corpse)
“Spoke as he dared, set stammeringly forth
“With white lips and dry tongue,—as but a youth,
“For frightful was the corpse-face to behold,—
“How nowise lacked there precedent for this.
“But when, for his last precedent of all,
“Emboldened by the Spirit, out he blurts
“‘And, Holy Father, didst not thou thyself
“‘Vacate the lesser for the greater see, (60)
“‘Half a year since change Arago for Rome?’
“‘—Ye have the sin’s defence now, synod mine!’
“Shrieks Stephen in a beastly froth of rage:
“‘Judge now betwixt him dead and me alive!
“‘Hath he intruded or do I pretend?
“‘Judge, judge!’—breaks wavelike one whole foam of wrath.

“Whereupon they, being friends and followers,
“Said ‘Ay, thou art Christ’s Vicar, and not he!
“‘A way with what is frightful to behold!
“‘This act was uncanonic and a fault.’ (70)

“Then, swallowed up in rage, Stephen exclaimed
“‘So, guilty! So, remains I punish guilt!
“‘He is unpoped, and all he did I damn:
“‘The Bishop, that ordained him, I degrade:
“‘Depose to laics those he raised to priests:
“‘What they have wrought is mischief nor shall stand,
“‘It is confusion, let it vex no more!
“‘Since I revoke, annul and abrogate
“‘All his decrees in all kinds: they are void!
“‘In token whereof and warning to the world, (80)
“‘Strip me yon miscreant of those robes usurped,
“‘And clothe him with vile serge befitting such!
“‘Then hale the carrion to the market-place;
“‘Let the town-hangman chop from his right hand
“‘Those same three fingers which he blessed withal;
“‘Next cut the head off, once was crowned forsooth:
“‘And last go fling all, fingers, head and trunk,
“‘In Tiber that my Christian fish may sup!’
“—Either because of which means Fish
“And very aptly symbolises Christ, (90)
“Or else because the Pope is Fisherman
“And seals with Fisher’s-signet. Anyway,
“So said, so done: himself, to see it done,
“Following the corpse, they trailed from street to street
“Till into Tiber wave they threw the thing.
“The people, crowded on the banks to see,
“Were loud or mute, wept or laughed, cursed or jeered,
“According as the deed addressed their sense;
“A scandal verily: and out spake a Jew
“‘Wot ye your Christ had vexed our Herod thus?’ (100)
“Now when, Formosus being dead a year,
“His judge Pope Stephen tasted death in turn,
“Made captive by the mob and strangled straight,
“Romanus, his successor for a month,
“Did make protest Formosus was with

  By PanEris using Melati.

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