Gateway to the Classics: Display Item
Horace Elisha Scudder

The Monk and the Bird

There was an old monk who had led a holy life, doing good all his days. And one reason why he had done good was because he lived much with God.

Early in the morning, before others had risen, he was on his knees praying to the Father of all, giving thanks for all his mercies, and asking for grace to lead a holy life that day. And late at night, when others slept, he lingered long on his knees, talking with God as with his dearest friend.

Not only did this monk pray in the chapel, and by the side of his narrow bed, but as he walked about doing good deeds his lips moved, and he scarcely saw any one else, for he was praying in silence. He was always glad to escape from himself to the thought of God.

So when he was an old, old man, he was one day in the garden of the monastery. He was too old and feeble now to go away amongst the poor and sick; but the poor and sick, young and old, were glad when they could come to him, and receive his blessing.

It was a lovely morning hour in early summer, and the garden was sweet with odors of roses. The air was soft and still. The old monk had been helped out to a garden-bench, and there left. He was in perfect peace, and when he was alone he sank upon his knees by the bench, and lifted his peaceful soul in prayer and praise.

As he prayed there came a sweet, pure note to his ear. It did not disturb him. He knew it for the voice of one of God's happy creatures, and as he prayed, he listened with a smile to this bird singing in one of the rose trees in the garden. He thought he never had heard anything so liquid as the song of this bird.

The notes so filled his soul that he rose from his knees to listen to the song. He rested his hands on his stout stick and listened. Then he drew near the rose tree from which the song came.

As he drew near, the little bird continued singing and then fled to a grove farther away, and again began calling with its sweet note. The old monk, forgetting everything else, eagerly pressed forward. It was as if he heard some bird of God.

O rapture! he neared the bird again and heard the pure notes sounding clearer and clearer. Once more the bird filled his soul and he listened, listened. Then away flew the bird, and led him by its song to a farther grove. Still the old man pressed on.

Thus hour by hour the heavenly bird sang, and hour by hour the old monk listened intent. He would not lose a note. But at last the bird's song grew gentler, until it ceased altogether. The day was nearing its close.

Then the happy old man set his face westward, and made his way back toward the monastery, carrying the memory of the song which mingled with his prayer, so that he scarce knew whether he were praying or listening to the music.

It was nightfall when he found himself once again within the garden; but it was not yet dark, and in the evening light he looked about him at the old scene. He was perplexed at the appearance of things. There was the convent, there was the garden, and yet nothing looked quite as when he had left the place.

As he stood wondering, a brother monk drew near. He wore the familiar dress, yet his face seemed strange. Well as our old monk knew all the brethren, this newcomer he could not remember ever to have seen. But he must needs speak to him, and he asked:—

"What has happened? Why is it that everything looks so changed since morning? What has taken place? But perhaps you have only just come. Is Brother Andrew within?"

The monk looked at him as he spoke, and he wondered as he looked. "Why," said he, "there has been no change here to-day, no, nor for many years. I have myself been here ten years come Michaelmas. There is no Brother Andrew amongst us. But you? pray, who art thou? and whence camest thou? This is the dress of the order, though somewhat old, but I have never seen thee before? What is thy name, good brother?"

The old monk, much wondering, told his name, and said further: "It was only this morning, early this morning, that I left the garden, for I heard the song of a bird, and it was like a song let down from heaven to draw me up."

Now when the younger monk heard the name, he fell on his knees, and took the robe of the other in his hand, and bowed over it. Then he told him how it was written in the books of the monastery that a holy man of that name had strangely disappeared out of their sight two hundred years ago.

"And it was written," he said, "that like as the Lord God buried his servant Moses and no man knew where he was buried, so did he hide from our sight this holy brother."

At that, a smile spread over the face of the old monk, and he lifted up his voice and said: ''My hour of death is come. Blessed be the name of the Lord for all his mercies to me," and so he breathed out his spirit.

Then all the monks in the monastery were called to witness this strange sight; and the young monk who had held converse with the old man turned to his brethren and said:—

"God be merciful to me a sinner! When this old man drew near to me I was thinking to myself, how can I bear the thought of an eternity of happiness? shall I not weary of endless peace? but lo! our brother heard a bird of God for but a single day as he thought, and it was two hundred years. Surely a thousand years in His sight are but as yesterday, and as a day that is past."