One day quite recently a knock
At heaven's brazen gates
Ascended to the lofty post
Where the warder, listening, waits;
Who, summoning his shining host,
Came down his private stair
To question, as his custom is,
The suppliant waiting there.
He touched the mystic spring that throws
The mighty bolts aside,
And with a twist of his saintly wrist
The portals opened wide.
Before him stood a ghastly wreck
Of manhood's promise fair,
Who bore the gaze of all the throng
With a damn-if-I-care air,
He was, in truth, a broken man –
Malaria's cankering hand
Had stamped wan face and drooping form
With her enduring brand.
His joints were swollen, shoulders bent,
And as his shrivelled bones
Contorted 'neath his shrunken skin,
He gasped between his groins:
"Oh, I'm the greatest sinner that
Has e'er been here before,
For each commandment of the law
I’ve broken o’er and o’er!
I’ve taken God’s great name in vain
A million times, I think;
And caused the good, with horror struck,
From my foul words to shrink!
I’ve worshipped idols countless times –
In fact, these later days
I’ve broken that express command
A thousand different ways!
“Since childhood’s long-gone, happy hours
The Sabbath I’ve ignored:
If ever I have gone to church,
I’ve been supremely bored:
And I’ve dishonored parents dear,
Oh, time and time again!
I killed while running on the road
I’m sure full fifty men!
I’ve coveted each separate thing
My neighbors have possessed,
And to adultery’s kindly crime
I’ve frequently confessed!
“False witness I have freely borne –
I’ve lied my whole life long;
And taken, doubtless, many things
That did not to me belong!
In short, there’s not a single vice
That I’ve not wallowed in:
I am a very monument
Of reeking, hideous sin!
But – “ here that dreadful, loathsome thing
Approached Saint Peter’s ear,
And murmured something that alone
The stooping guard could hear.
And then before that startled throng
Saint Peter grasped his hand:
And motioning his shining host
Each side the gate to stand,
He led him to the golden stairs,
And pointing straight ahead,
In clarion, far-reaching voice
To the wretched pilgrim said:
“Climb up, O weary one, climb up!
Climb high! Climb higher yet,
Until you reach the plush-lined steats
That only martyrs get!
Then sit you down and rest yourself
While years of bliss roll on!”
Then to the angels he remarked:
“He’s been living in Colon!”