The Stylite

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He nearly drowned in hermit-seeking seas
Of visitors — those voids he had allowed
To suck his soul — damned sycophantic fleas!
Wrenching himself from the besieging crowd,
He gripped with clammy hands and bulbous knees

And climbed a column standing idle there.
Alone, on top of it, his spirit soared,
And once again he started to compare
His weakness with the strength that is the Lord.

No end to it: as fast as he could praise
The Other grew, and overtopped it all.
Rustics, stopping near the foot to gaze,
Would see a lonely madman, high and small,

In lively conversation with the sky.
The howls came plunging down for them to hear
When rainy weather screened him from their eyes.
He seemed to pray by shouting in their ears
And yet he didn't realize for years

That, all this while, his following had grown.
Around the column, seating was set out
For pious tourist, amateur devout —
The column had more glamour than a throne.

But as he battled with his daily fiends,
Crying aloud, so mortified by them,
Despairing of a way to make them go,
The maggots, which had fattened up of late,
Dropped from his wounds upon the foremost row
Of those by whom he felt himself demeaned:
There to festoon the princely diadem
And pupate in the velvet robes of state.

© Rainer Maria Rilke