St Cuthbert writes to St Herbert
A poem for St Cuthbert’s Day 2015
The 7th Century Saint Cuthbert lived as a hermit on the bleak Farne Islands off the North Sea coast of Northumbria. Each year he walked a hundred miles to visit his friend and fellow-hermit Herbert, who lived on a tree-lined island in Derwent Water.
I envy you your trees
and Skiddaw’s hills;
and the fresh waters of Derwent
from which we drew and drank together,
quaffing like a pair of drunken monks
and laughing at its intoxicating purity.
The water that surrounds me burns my soul.
It cracks the skin
and makes the taker thirsty.
It can never satisfy.
How easy it would be to slake my soul
in the company of the cloister;
with awed oblates eyeing the old Saint at his prayers;
prayers that work miracles, so they say.
But I will build around me walls
higher than the fells of Skiddaw
to shield me from the droning of the monks;
Nor will I feed upon the souls of men
or leech the life from those I teach and heal.
My roofless cell will be my window onto God.
Such blessings as He wills to rain on me
He must pour in through that small opening,
or leave me yet to parch upon the Farne.