The Disillusioned Poet and the Carthusian Monk

 

One day I brought a poet to the Charterhouse to visit a monk, one of his relatives. After having conversed together about various things, the poet divulged to the Carthusian monk: I wrote the last lines to a poem, an I compliment myself that it may bring me some prosperity in the world. I have spent all my years of study on it, and I wish to take two more years to perfect it, and to consign it in a position where it may appear completely dignified to the public, he said, I considered placing  a delay on publishing to guarantee myself greater acclaim from the public.

I believe that you ought to defer for two more years, said the Carthusian, if one assured you, that your poem, when it appeared to the public, was read and admired by all in France, by the whole Court, and by all of France.

The Poet answered unequivocally; I believe I would have spent these four years well.

But if you were assured, the Carthusian continued, that if you defer another four years your poem was sought by all of Europe, translated into all languages, and admired by all the geniuses, wouldn’t you allow yourself to wait for some time longer?

The Poet replied willingly; glory so great would certainly deserve to be purchased by holdind the publication in abeyance for eight years.

Yet if you delay for another eight years, the Carthusian continued, and you were satisfied, that the adulation and acclaim that Europe had for your work would be perpetuated, and continue to increased for posterity, for example, continue to grow until the end of the world, would you allow these eight to wait years?

Without difficulty the Poet replied.

Then all this time, the Carthusian continued, after sixteen years, and when you are flattered by yet another sixteen years with which to enjoy this glory?

Nò replied the Poet; But why does it matter? the glory that accompanies man during his  life is nothing; the one that he leaves after himself is worthy of being desired.

Would you then allow yourself, said the Carthusian, to toil for your entire life to obtain a great glory after your death?

No doubt the Poet replied, and this is the opinion of everyone who is well born, and of all those men who are great thinkers.

If this is the case, my dear cousin, the monk replied, who prevents you from acquiring this great glory or an immensely greater one; One which will not disappear after your departure from life, but one which will follow you in the life hereafter, and one that you will enjoy throughout eternity? To obtain such endless glory, which will be timeless and in eternal, you must employ what remains of your days, not in correcting your poem, but rather in correcting your customs, and by serving God with fervour. No one at all can promise you success and adulation when your poem, has been corrected, refined and filed; Yet faith, belief and doctrine assure you of it through the correction of your customs, and your devotion in serving God.

Oh! exclaimed the Poet, I did not foresee the point you wanted to lead me to; but this is not the covenant in question. You and other Carthusian’s ideas are sombre, terminal and funereal. Yet we are in this life for the glory we can attain whilst alive and we must speak of it because we cannot see the glory if any in the afterlife.

But replied the Carthusian, will you see the glory of this life when you are no longer among the living? and since you must leave this life, and move on to the other, it is not more prudent to acquire a glory, which will follow you forever, rather than a glory, which will only survive in the memory of men for a short while, and which you can only relish whilst alive? but what will the glory that your poem provide for you? What is the glory of the world compared to that which you can earn as a result of a life of holiness? The first is definitely uncertain, and no one would be able to guarantee it, whereas the second is assured by the word of God, your religion and your faith. The first will always be tenuous, and very limited. Even if your name became famous and celebrated throughout France, or all over Europe! Whereas the second will be universal, so that on the last day, not only all those who now live in France, and Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, not just those who live now or after you until the end of time; but every single soul that has ever lived from the beginning of the world, all without exception, will know you perfectly, and you will become an object of praise, esteem, admiration, and respect among them. Finally the glory of your poem will always be short-lived, and transitory, and at the most it can reach the end of the world. After that it will no longer be a matter of poetry, nor of all that we are dealing with in this land. And all the worldly glory will disappear, like a wandering smoke in the wind. Only true glory will remain, the permanent glory that comes only from God, whose judgment is based on truth, on justice, and on true merits, when the vows of all created intelligences will be reconciled; and this glory will be eternal. The desire, therefore, and the hope of this glory, are these sombre, terminal and funereal ideas? Are they not more consoling, and all the happier? What do you think?

Cousin, the poet replied, that this is a beautiful sermon; if somewhat protracted.

Well, said the Carthusian, let us leave all this behind for a moment, and return to your poem: Do you think therefore to publish it in two years?

Yes, if God gives me life, replied the poet.

When you have written your last line, and sent it to print, do you think that critics and censors will be lacking? Oh, they will certainly become evident, and how many? Even a work, however excellent, is never immune to criticism; yet I do not fear it, and even if I am critically set upon, I will be able to defend myself well.

But, the Carthusian took up again: if, taking four years to retouch it, in which you would be assured of making it superior and place it above every criticism, so that even those who envy you the most could say nothing, on the contrary, indeed even if they were forced in having to praise you, one would not expect to wait four years before publishing it?

Where do you presume to lead me, the Poet anwered, with these assumptions of yours?

To true glory, my dear cousin, the monk replied: to that glory, which cannot come from anyone opposed to you, glory which the whole Universe will grant you, and which is not only until the final day, but for all eternity, which will force your enemies to confess  with good reason that you deserved it, despairing that they have not behaved as you.

I must very well confess, said the Poet, that this would be most fitting, whilst the glory, which we pursue in this world, and for which we have traded and sacrificed so much, in substance is nothing more than a chimera, an ignis fatuus, it is nothing more than a phantasm which seduces us. But what do you expect? We are men, and we live as men: we are deranged madmen.

And whom, replied the Carthusian, prevents you from being wise with the wise men? How many of those identify with them for whom the glory of this world is just a puff of smoke, and who make every effort to acquire eternal glory! You live with men: but for  nothing less you, and all men who live with you, will find yourselves in the other world with all those who have preceded us, and who will come after us, and God only knows whom you will be with. It is because you do not imitate those generous souls, who full of these thoughts persevere and vex tirelessly to acquire true glory in the afterlife, which will be steadfast, omnipresent, and eternal.

Cousin, said the Poet, if I had only twenty years I would become a Carthusian;

You becoming a Carthusian, is not the solution, said the monk; it is about becoming a good and fervent Christian.

And what should I do to achieve this, said the Poet?

The Carthusian said, you must put your conscience in good order, make a good confession, grow passionate in your practice of prayers, to do good works, attend the sacraments frequently, forgetting the world, and think only of predisposing yourself to appear with honour, and with glory during the final judgment.

And what should we do with my Poem?

You have to throw into the fire, and never think about it again.

I assure you, said the Poet, that if I had it here I would immediately burn it before your very eyes: I will go home, and it will be the first thing I will do!

I do not trust your conviction, cousin, the Carthusian countered; rather, you should send it to me, and return to visit me tomorrow, and together we will consign it to the flames.

Of course you are right, you will receive the poem post haste: it seems to me that I have a soaring mountain at my shoulders which I must ascend. I resolved to give myself to God completely, and to think only of the great business of my salubrity. Farewell dear cousin, Until tomorrow.

The Poet kept his word: the same evening he sent the Poem to his cousin the monk, returning the next day to see it burn, and he confirmed himself in his holy resolutions, and from then on he occupied himself solely in exercises of piety.

His penance though austere, was not long. He died after six months, full of hope and consolation, thanking God for having guided him away from his error just in time.

The poet was buried in the Charterhouse, and he had requested.

Funerale Certosino