The Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine of Alexandria


While Jesus was still a baby she fell in love,
Though not yet born when he was crucified;
She waited four centuries more to be his bride.
Those legends, in fact, will not bear thinking of,
Where not even fiction with faith goes hand in glove.

Yet there was a truth in all that pious confusion,
Waiting like seed in desert sands for rain;
Though time was a tongueless tocsin tolled in vain,
Her virgin visions were not all delusion,
But causes pointing to no foregone conclusion.

This is certain at least: at her conversion she saw
Seven golden candlesticks and in their light,
Muscled like a lion, a man; his hair was white
Like wool; his eyes like flame; his jaw
Clamped like a sheath upon the sword of law.

Yes, he was terrible, tall, ruddy and young;
The meeting of their eyes was night with noon.
His glance said: “Wait for me!” and hers asked: “Soon?”
As the meeting of many waters then his tongue
Cried: “No, you must wait till this world’s knell is rung.”

And when they baptised her, as on breast and face
The holy, eclipsing water flashed and fell,
The redemptive drops enchanted her as well,
Dissolved the Bridegroom’s male and menacing grace
And Mary his mother sat smiling in his place.

A naked infant, laughing on her knee,
Leaned, touched her hand; the baby fist took hold
And loosed, and there she felt a ring of gold
Clasped on her finger, not to be pulled free,
While her flesh shivered in mortal ecstasy.

A needle of cureless love transfixed her heart
And the young girl, so like her, held the child
Towards her, still crowing and gurgling; and she smiled
Saying: “See, we have both been chosen and set apart.
Now, from this moment, your martyrdom will start.

“The agony of inscrutable centuries
Of waiting will be your torment, past relief
But He will come at last.” There was a brief
Dazzle and darkness; when she opened her eyes
She found the brethren staring with surprise.

The priest said: “While you were out of the body, this hour,
There was a voice as though from heaven: We heard:
‘She is blessed among women. To wed the Word
Shall be her lot; an immarcescible flower
Her elective sign; three visions her bridal dower.’ ”

She made no answer; a glory, it is said,
Shone from her face, her hands, her naked feet.
The brethren and strangers peering from the street
Gaped as at Lazarus risen from the dead.
She knelt and took the blessed wine and bread.

The legends tell next of incredible things:
Of fifty pagan philosophers rendered dumb;
Her shattering of the wheel of martyrdom;
Her elegant frustration of the King’s
Crazed lust; her perlustration on the wings

Of forty angels to Sinai—what is true
Is this: she outlived the people of her time.
A perpetual virgin lies within reason and rhyme;
But she was a perpetual beauty too,
Seventeen in all its bloom, its dazzle, its dew.

She walked the great city daily; a golden haze
About her; no shoulder jostled her in the crowd;
Wolfish men answered her gently and the proud
Gave what she asked. Her inward-centred gaze
Fixed the two visions that filled her nights and days.

Yet no one seemed to notice her; as though
Closed in a cloud she wandered among men
The centuries came and went. Rome fell; and when
Islam arose and Egypt felt the blow
She fled to Byzantium. No one saw her go.

There, age after age, she toiled at the immense
Task of unflagging patience she called love.
The domes of the Holy Wisdom, poised above
Her praying posture, figured the suspense
Of passion on the long agony of sense.

An agony which at last she could not fight
And prayed for death, for peace: “Have pity, Lord!”
But he: “I bring not peace, love, but a sword;
I shall come in terror, in glory and in might;
Yet you shall be with me in Paradise this night.”

It was the year the Turk stood at the gate;
The day Constantinople drowned in blood.
Going to her lodging from the church she trod
All the way on corpses, for the slaughter was great;
But, treading on death, sang her magnificat:

“In my Redeemer now am I glorified!
Now the doves in the clefts of the rock prepare their nests.
Let him come: he shall lie all night between my breasts.
Like an army with banners, the morning stars in their pride
The Bridegroom approaches at last to claim his bride!”

She climbed the twelve steps to her garret room;
Took off her clothes; combed out her radiant hair;
And, breaking a box of very ancient myrrh,
Anointed her body for bridal and the tomb
Crying: “Eli, Eli! Come now, Lord Jesus, come!”

He said: “I am here, behold, my love, my bride!”
And, terrible in his naked might, he came;
Gathered her harvest in his devouring flame;
Then saying: “It is finished!” gave up the ghost and died.
Wondering, she touched his wounded hands, his side.

So the third vision left her. It is said
In the burning city at dawn, or just before,
A janizary for loot broke down her door;
Found an old crone asleep upon the bed
And, having searched the room, cut off her head.

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