23 January 2009

Phyllis McGinley on Simeon Stylites

I borrowed some books from my pastor in preparation for Lent, and he threw in a collection of poetry by Phyllis McGinley, Times Three as a surprise bonus. This collection includes a section on saints with some very funny poems rooted in a unique take on the truth of their lives. One of them is a poem about Simeon Stylites. Now as a hermit who knows hermits are not generally very well understood despite a resurgence of interest in the life, this resonated with me. More, as a hermit for whom Simeon Stylites' life remains personally incomprehensible despite my own reflection on the value of stability (including what is known as "stability of the pillar") it REALLY resonated with me. I wanted to share it here.

On top of a pillar, Simeon sat.
He wore no mantle,
He had no hat,
But bare as a bird
Sat night and day.
And hardly a word
Did Simeon say.

Under the sun of a desert sky
He sat on a pillar
Nine feet high.
When Fool and his brother
Came round to admire,
He raised it another
Nine feet higher.

The seasons circled about his head.
He lived on water
And crusts of bread
(or so one hears)
from pilgrims' store,
For thirty years
And a little more.

And why did Simeon sit like that,
Without a garment,
Without a hat,
In a holy rage
for the world to see?
It puzzles the age,
It puzzles me.
It puzzled many
A Desert Father,
And I think it puzzled the good Lord, rather.