The Legend of St. Austin and the Child

by Katharine Tynan

St. Austin, going in thought
Along the sea-sands gray,
Into another world was caught,
And Carthage far away.

He saw the City of God
Hang in the saffron sky;
And this was holy ground he trod,
Where mortals come not nigh.

He saw pale spires aglow,
Houses of heavenly sheen;
All in a world of rose and snow,
A sea of gold and green.

There amid Paradise
The saint was rapt away
From unillumined sands and skies
And floor of muddy clay.

His soul took wings and flew,
Forgetting mortal stain,
Upon the track of that bright crew
That homed to heaven again.

Forgetting mortal dearth
It seized on heavenly things,
Till it was cast again to earth,
Because it had not wings.

Because the Three in One
He could not understand,
Baffled and beaten and undone,
He gazed o'er sea and land.

Then by a little pool
A lovely child he saw;
A harmless thing and beautiful,
And yet so full of awe,

That with a curved sea-shell,
Held in his rosy hand,
Had scooped himself a little well
Within the yielding sand.

And to and fro went he,
Between it and the wave,
Bearing his shell filled with the sea
To find a sandy grave.

'What is it that you do,
You lovely boy and bold?'
'I empty out the ocean blue,
You man so wise and old!

'See you how in this cup
I bind the great sea's girth !'
'Ah no, the gray sands suck it up
Your cup is little worth.

'Now put your play aside,
And let the ocean be.
Tell me your name, O violet-eyed,
That empty out the sea !

'What lineage high and fine
Is yours, O kingly boy,
That sure art sprung of royal line,
A people's hope and joy.'

'Austin, as you have said,
A crown my Sire doth wear,
My mother was a royal maid
And yet went cold and bare.'

He shook his golden curls,
A scornful laugh laughed he:
'The night that I was born, the churls,
They would not shelter me.

'Only the ox and ass,
The night that I was born,
Made me a cradle of the grass
And watched by me till morn.

'The night that I was born
The ass and ox alone,
Betwixt the midnight and the morn,
Knelt down upon the stone.

'The bitter night I came,
Each star sang in its sphere.
Now riddle, riddle me my name,
My Austin, tried and dear.'

Austin is on his face,
Before that vision bright.
'My Lord, what dost Thou in this place
With such a sinful wight?'

'I come not here in wrath,
But I come here in love,
My Austin, skilled in life and death,
Thy vanity to prove.

'Mortal, yet over-bold
To fly where th' eagle flies,
As soon this cup the sea will hold
As thou My Mysteries.

'Patience a little yet,
And thou shalt be with Me,
And in thy soul's small cup unmeet
Myself will pour the sea.'

When Austin raised his head
No child was there beside,
But in the cup the Child had made
There swelled the rising tide.

Last updated May 02, 2015