The Nun of Tavistock Abbey

Collins, Allston Charles: Convent Thoughts  1828-1873 (The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology) – painting reference.


In Tavistock stands a lofty house;

near the old monastery. 

Out into the bright morning steps;

a pious maiden;

a hymn rings out

and to the abbey church

the alighted figure goes.


There in front of Mary’s sacred image;

she kneels down to pray:

Heaven has filled her heart on high

and all earthly joy runs aside:

“O Virgin pure!

Let me be

yours alone!”


When the mellifluous toll of the bells;

awakens the worshippers in their stalls,

the maiden walks along those creepy long halls:

she does not know what she is wearing;

upon her head

bright with Heaven’s orb of light,

there is a wreath of lilies.


With astonishment gaze all the laity;

this little jewel appears, with bright hair,

but the maiden does not travel beyond her means;

She steps in front of the high altar:

“Discipline me as a nun,

me, your poor maid!

Death, Mercy and Joy!”


God, grant that this maiden

may wear her wreathe in everlasting peace;

she is my heart’s true love, blessed

to remain so until Judgment Day.

She does not know it,

and my heart is breaking for her to see ever more clearly;

Death, Mercy and light of life forever and ever!


What expectation does pensively,

Now wait upon her as she is lively;

Over and under this wild river

Of spirits overthrown with temper.

Two paces from her feet,

Leads through a night of sleet;

Where the blistered moon is bright.


A glistening upon her with what light;

Until made a dangerous shadow,

Strike upon her in the meadow;

From a charred trunk of broken tree. 

She goes tither carefully;

But a misty crevice steals ground,

There belonging to her new compound.


Perniciously-ridged chamber or vault,

Framed of stone in perfect fault;

The spread of ivy made in country,

Furnsihed like a stormy ivory tower. 

She does with jealousy,

Forbidding repel her breast dangerously;

Whereupon roses dither. 


All is quiet; now she can mime;

Thy cloud of unknowing, hour sublime,

No longer swells the snow in gale;

It hath struck midnight, quiet and pale.

Her unconscious breast

Thy bosom wishes,

The thoughts once repressed.


Sheltering snares of vice unknown?

It hath blushed, and conscience flown?

Let not be horrid dreams affrighted;

Thy strange vision, snow still bright.

Absconded by wild eagles

Doth the dove light yonder skies;

Pleased be the morning anew. 


Her soul drawn nigh with a sigh;

Dawn’s awakened from grave’s repose,

Body and spirit yielded up close,

The curtains opened with a friendly-hand. 

Love thy lessons by high command

Glorify all the world as one;

Protected are the virtues as they are won.


But she frowns to the neighbours

At the tide of this new day ordained;

What memories of glory appear fawned,

That thou be dismayed like Christ. 

Salvation thou be priced,

His blood tasteth everlasting;

An entire Kingdom fasting.


Spirit then will she be exalted;

In Him is our Sacrifice rewarded,

For his Body is the triumph;

Immortality in heaven’s reliance.

In His living sepulchre

Resurrected Glory is won;

Angelic witnesses hither. 


His garments, winding Cloth, 

The risen Christ before Mary Magdalene;

As he went before His own into Galilee,

The six-winged Seraph, sleepless Cherubim.

Cry out on High to beckon him,

Mercy on ye sons and daughters;

She loves the Lord, King of glory, adored,

Alleluia, Himself from death restored.

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