Ballad of St. John of Nepomuk

By George Sterling

Now to you all be Christmas cheer,
    Good health and better luck!
Praise now the womb that gave to men
    St. John of Nepomuk!

He stood before King Wenceslaus
    With none to take his part—
Despair upon his kindly face,
    But honor in his heart.

"How now, O priest!" the monarch cried,
    (And death was in his smile) :
"Didst shrive the faithless soul of her
    Who did my bed defile?

"Didst bid her go in peace who now
    Hath left no peace to me?
Tell then the sin that thou didst shrive,
    E'en as she told it thee!"

"O king!" our saint unbletiching said,
    Such may I not reveal,
For priesthood's vow upon my lips
    Hath set a ghostly seal.

"That seal which on my mouth is set
    Forever and for aye,
Thou shalt not loose by mortal pain
    Nor wrench with racks away."

They stretched his body on the rack
    And there their will they wrought;
He cried in his woe to seven saints,
    But not the tale they sought.

"Confess," the king in fury cried,
    "Her love as it befell,
Or steel shall cleave thy way to death
    And fire thy path to Hell!"

"O king," he said, "I will not speak,
    Tho thou in tears should kneel;
For manhood's honor on my mouth
    Hath set a mighty seal.

"And that seal set upon my mouth
    More close than life does stay:
Thou canst not break it with a sword
    Nor melt with fire away."

They wrought their will upon his flesh
    With cursing and with scoff. . . .
They gagged his mouth and from a bridge
    At last they flung him off.

They cast him into Moldau stream,
    Our saint who did no wrong;
But that true mouth which to'd no tale
    God filleth now with song.

Wherefore pray thou our new-born Lord,
    And John our saint as well,
That when a fair fame thou mightst harm
    No whisper thou shalt tell.

For since of her who gave him naught
    He would not cause the fall,
How knightlier shalt thou guard the name
    Of her who gives thee all!

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