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Canto IX: The Temptation of Sœur Agnes

Sœur Agnes’ Resolve Begins to Waver: The Temptation of Sœur Agnes 1

“‘Whilst Amaury’s disciples
Led denuded prey away,
He focused savored fury on
The lamb he’d brought to bay.

“‘Sœur Agnes felt her spirit flinch
Beneath his vicious gaze
And begged of God He give her strength
To hold the flesh to bay.

“‘Abruptly, then the frère broke pose
To lift a cup of wine
Then raised his brow, betokening
That now had come her time.

“‘Bedecked with unctuous aural light,
Frère Amaury approached,
Whilst calmness, sighs, and gasps began
Sporadically to broach.

“‘At first the sounds escaped by ones
But then were overlain
When quicker waxed the gutturals
That swelled the dark refrain.

“‘The evening long, an early springtime
Storm had gathered strength
Whose distant peals of thunder joined
The organum at length.

“‘As Amaury approached, she watched
His pupils amplify;
The sight began to sap her of
Conviction to defy.

“‘And also as he neared, a rank
Aroma tinged the air,
But strangely, at its prompting, did
Her nostrils slightly flare.

“‘The closer came the scarlet monk
The quicker beat her pulse,
The more relaxed her sinews waxed,
The less was she revulsed.

“‘Yet still, as best she could, she delved
The depths of her reserves
To call upon her soul to buttress
Agency with nerve.

“‘She willed herself to yet maintain
What then was but façade—
A mien of stark defiance that
Would not be overawed.

“‘She dared him with her countenance,
“Molest a one so pure,
But do so and be damned, for God’s
Swift punishment be sure.”

“‘She crossed herself and met his
Dilate pupils with her own
And prayed of God her waxing weakness
Hadn’t yet been shown.

“‘But Amaury had read her dilate
Eyes; he’d seen her flinch;
He’d seen her nostrils flare when piqued
By musky, pungent stench.

“‘His keen and practiced eye observed
The mien she cast was mimed,
And knew he of a certainty
That Agnes had been primed.

“‘Then, when the slack betwixt them was
Reduced to thinnest air,
He came to rest, and with his eyes
He cruelly mocked her dare.

“‘Frère Amaury then proffered her
The cup of wine he bore,
Which Agnes took then promptly drained
Its contents to the floor.

“‘Frère Amaury responded with
A narrowing of eyes
And nodding of his head to show
He wasn’t much surprised.

“‘Awash in creamy light, the Frère
A breath, foreboding, drew
And cast a prolonged gaze on her
To let her prospects brew.

“‘Sœur Agnes was exhausted by
The force of will she’d spent
Defying evil’s power, applied
In waves without relent.

“‘The evening long had she alone
Stood firm against its lure.
“How long,” she asked herself, “could virtue’s
Parapet endure?”

“‘The draining of the cup of wine
Exhausted her reserves
Of inner strength, of piety,
Of agency, of nerve.

“‘And all of this had Amaury
Perused as if he skimmed
A hymnal, read a hundred times,
Composed of evil hymns

“‘Left wan and weak, her face assumed
A supplicating cast,
Then, satisfied, the frère cast forth
His tongue and spoke at last.

Frère Amaury Passes Sentence on Sœur Agnes: The Temptation of Sœur Agnes 2

“‘Said he, “It would have well sufficed
To take thee under spell
And left thee with the notion that
Thy virtue yet indwelled.

“‘“The cup of wine was laced with agents
Rendering the wit
Incapable of functions that
It commonly acquits,

“‘“Which would have let thee tell thyself
It wasn’t thee who caved
To yearnings of the flesh for pleasures
Flesh most surely craves.

“‘“Thou could have blamed the potion for
Thy fall from pristine grace
And questioned not thy spirit,
For thy wit had been debased.

“‘“The proffer of the cup of wine
Was grace upon my part
To let thee tell thyself untruths
About thy very heart.

“‘“It would have left me quite content
To leave thee yet abused
Of purity’s delusion, which
Insipid souls pursue.

“‘“But I retract my grace, though sooth
I would be much amused
If thy diverting naivete
I didn’t disabuse;

“‘“Regardless, thy effrontery
In scorning proffered wine
Compels a righteous punishment,
Exquisitely designed.

“‘“The punishment be simply this:
On thee I turn thy gaze.
I’ll show thee what thy substance be
When vanity is razed.

“‘“Beyond this night of reckoning,
Thy being shall be shed
Of rank, obtuse hypocrisy
And don arete instead.

“‘“And now the transformation
Of thy matter and thy soul,
By mine own hand, majestically,
Inexorably unfolds.”

“‘That said, the frère, ’twixt thumb and finger,
Damped the candle’s flame,
And then the Beguinage,
A sacrilegious pitch o’ercame.

Sœur Agnes’ Will Comes Undone: The Temptation of Sœur Agnes 3

“‘Sœur Agnes heard the vernal storm
Unleash a stunning blast
A moment after lightening flashed
And ebon skies, surpassed.

“‘The brilliant flash of lightening lit
The chapel for a trice,
Revealing animation in
The hall—but just a slice.

“‘Indeed, the slice was so short-lived
That figures on the floor
Seemed frozen in their carnal poses,
Then and evermore.

“‘The image flashed on Agnes’ eyes,
Reducing her to awe,
And seemed to dredge a memory
Of distant dreams recalled.

“‘And also had Frère Amaury’s
Minacious image flashed—
His feral eyes a’pulsate
And his slanted teeth a’gnash.

“‘His visage and the tableau that
The bolt of lightning froze
Were etched upon Sœur Agnes’ eyes
As if they had been posed.

“‘And there they both remained when gravid
Darkness snuffed the flick
And raised the pitch as quickly as
When damped the frère his wick.

“‘The etching of the images
Transcribed upon her orbs
Remained amid the darkness till
The sum her heart absorbed.

“‘And when the sum of images
Was lodged within her heart,
’Twas then Sœur Agnes’ agency
Came raveling apart.

“‘She felt she lived within a dream
Her conscious couldn’t guide;
The counsel of her soul did some
Pernicious force elide.

“‘Then, when her being realized that
Its course was set adrift,
Her flesh grew cold awaiting outcomes
Fate would finely sift.

“‘Frère Amaury then firmly seized
Sœur Agnes in his grasp.
Her heart leapt in the instant whilst
She flushed, and then she gasped.

“‘She felt her sinews wilt whilst did
Her knees begin to slack;
The enervation served as subtle
Aphrodisiac.

“‘The storm released another bolt
That doused the gloom with light,
Revealing greyish eyes turn black
In sockets rolling white.

“‘She heard a whispered growl emerge
Betwixt his distent lips,
Which trilled upon her earlobe and
Which held her ear in grip.

“‘“Thou wretched slut,” he said “thou whore,
Dare think thou be immune
To impulse God implanted in
Thy heart for me to groom.

“‘“I’ll cure thee of the fantasy
That purity exists;
’Tis merely but a fable, which,
As vanity, persists.

“‘“Tonight will I reveal to thee
Just what it is thou be;
Ere long will thou most gladly cede
Thy willing flesh to me.

“‘“Already is thy breath grown short;
Thy knees begin to sway;
Thy heartbeat races frantically;
Thy flesh has given way.”’”

Sœur Agnes Reaches Depths and Heights: The Temptation of Sœur Agnes 4

“‘The sighs and gasps about the room
In time had subtly waxed
To plaintive moans and labored groans,
Which called and answered back.

“‘And whilst the din intensified,
The whiff of musky stench
That teased Sœur Agnes’ instinct waxed
And drowned the air it drenched.

“‘But if Sœur Agnes noted how
The atmosphere had changed,
The notice was subliminal, beyond
Sensation’s range.

“‘For Agnes, then, was well beyond
Attention to her wit;
Her being and her purpose to
A latent urge were knit.

“‘She felt herself responding to
The movement of his flesh
As privity betwixt them waxed
The more that they caressed.

“‘Her being was reduced to mere
Sensation, and she swooned,
Responding but to stimuli
As tides obey the moon.

“‘As if abruptly shaken, did
Sœur Agnes’ body wake
And cleave itself to Amaury
With limbs that clasped and quaked.

“‘Together did they thrash about
To seek each other’s heat,
And each could feel the other’s heart
Compose a frantic beat.

“‘But welling de profundis, or
Perhaps from higher power,
Came prompts that reawakened Agnes’
Spirit to its dower.

“‘The virtue and simplicity
Implanted in her heart,
Responding to her wakened spirit,
Sloughed the beghard’s art.

(“‘But not before they’d struggled with
The beghard’s darksome powers,
Applied to wilt and desiccate
So delicate a flower.)

“‘Therewith, her native wit awoke
And, shaken, sprang alive
And warned her of the peril that
She faced when it revived.

“‘And welled in her in waves, when did
Her disposition dawn,
Revulsion for a passion so
Iniquitously spawned.

“‘She realized that she’d ceded to
The beast her very heart—
A beast that takes no council of
The love that God imparts.

“‘She realized that she’d become
No freer than a bird—
No freer than a member of
A dumb and plodding herd.

Sœur Agnes Ungrips Herself and Flees: The Temptation of Sœur Agnes 5

“‘Revitalized, her wit advised
Sœur Agnes she need wrench,
With all her might, her frame, such that
Her person be unclenched.

“‘She did so with a violent thrust
So forceful that when freed
Momentum’s force embraced her and
Conveyed her to her knees.

“‘She gathered up her wits and groped
About the chapel floor
In order that she orient
Herself toward the door.

“‘She upward looked and saw the fresco
Shine amidst the gloom.
The vision of the Virgin guided
Agnes from the room.

“‘She crawled across the mass of heaving
Bodies on the floor,
Which formed a tangled labyrinth
She solved to reach the door.

“‘She bolted from the chapel hall
And crashed into the eve,
Where, chilled, a springtime breeze with softness
Sighed as though it grieved.

“‘Whilst Agnes had traversed the seething
Flesh that formed a maze,
A zephyr had conveyed the vernal
Thunderstorm away—

“‘And left behind but wispy clouds
That filtered golden light
The waxing moon effused, which gilt
The chilléd vernal night.

“‘The chill that rode the wind opposed
The heat from which she’d fled,
Arisen in the chapel when
The flames of lust were fed.

“‘So perfectly distracted had
Sœur Agnes’ senses grown,
She’d failed to note the fever that
Her passion bred and honed.

“‘But then she saw the vapor that
Her swollen lips released
Combine with steam her aspect sloughed
To travel as a piece—

“‘And disappear together in
The gilded vernal air
And waft upon its breezes to
Wherever they repaired.

“‘’Twas then Sœur Agnes came to sense
Her stark pyretic state,
Arisen from intense and ardent
Skirmishes with fate.

“‘Sœur Agnes briefly rested to
Regather in her wit
And also to retrieve what strength
Her sinews would admit.

“‘She took a brief appraisal of
The options that she faced,
Then winnowed out the options till
But one remained in place.

“‘With course determined, Agnes then,
With gathered force and sense,
Made quickly for her cell to mount
Her innocence defense.

“‘Arrivéd at her cell, she barred
The door with chair aslant
Then knelt beside her cot and soulful
Prayers began to chant.

“‘She prayed that, come what may, her soul
Remain detached and pure,
Untroubled by whatever degradation
Flesh endured.

“‘And there in prayerful attitude
Did Agnes wait her fate;
Soon, footsteps sounded tells that said
’Twould be a short-lived wait.

“‘Her prayer waxed more impassioned whilst
The doomful footsteps neared,
And when their echo ceased to sound,
She dropped a knowing tear.

“‘Then came a pause, and whilst it waxed,
Foreboding silence fell;
In separate hearts, the meantime, rage
And desperation welled.

“‘Sœur Agnes moved to sign the cross
To punctuate her prayer,
But ere she finished, planks and splinters
Burst upon the air.

“‘They did so midst a mighty crash,
Exploding midst the pause,
Which brutalized Sœur Agnes’ ears
And sheeved her wit with awe.

“‘The sudden pandemonium
That shook the room then stilled,
And yet another pause ensued
Amidst a rising chill.

About this poem

The poetry in the post is an edited excerpt taken from a long narrative poem titled Adèle and Gilbert. The poem is a work of historical fiction set in gothic France. The narrative involves two young loves who were separated by circumstance. Each having reason to believe the other dead, over the course of twenty years, they travel separate pathways to a chance reunion on the doorsteps of a church in an obscure village. In a series of confessions, Adèle and Gilbert depict the calamities that befell them during their travels. Afterward, they unite to confront a specter risen from Adèle’s past. The poem is preceded by a prose introduction in which a fictitious super narrator provides the poem’s fictional provenance and other information pertinent to the poem. The poem includes a prose introduction, a prelude, thirty-nine cantos, and a coda. The passage contained in this post describes what took place inside a beguinage some months prior to Adèle’s visit to the beguinage. Narration is provided by Adèle’s childhood friend, Sœur Agnes, as quoted by Adèle to Gilbert. Sœur Agnes, speaking while entranced, refers to herself in third person, as if she were another person recounting a scene she had witnessed or heard tell of. In previous passages, the circumstances that lead to the temptation of Sœur Agnes are described. For instance, Frère Amaury had spent the entire evening seducing the beguines with sophisticated antinomian cant delivered in a series of sermons in which he claimed to be the Paraclete. All the beguines, except Sœur Agnes, had succumbed to his temptation. As a result, he marked her out as his special prey. When he had completed his seduction of the other beguines, Frère Amaury fetched in a band of his devotees, whom he unleashed on the beguines. He then turned his attention to Sœur Agnes. 

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Submitted by carton78 on February 12, 2023

11:20 min read
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D. S. Fly

D. S. Fly is a garage poet who wanted to be a storytelling poet from the time he read the Classics Illustrated version of the Iliad to write a book report in Junior High School. (That effort did not turn out well.) more…

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