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“Saint Stephen,” A Poem by P.W. Bridgman

In Arts & Letters, Creative Writing, Poetry on February 26, 2020 at 6:45 am

P.W. Bridgman is a Pushcart Prize-nominated writer of poetry and short fiction. His most recent book—a selection of poems entitled A Lamb—was published by Ekstasis Editions in 2018. It was preceded in 2013 by a selection of short fiction entitled Standing at an Angle to My Age (published by Libros Libertad). Bridgman’s poems and stories have appeared in The Moth Magazine, The Glasgow Review of Books, The Honest Ulsterman, The High Window, The Bangor Literary Journal, The Galway Review, Ars Medica, Poetry Salzburg Review and other literary periodicals, e-zines and anthologies. Learn more at

Saint Stephen[1]

Did he doubt or did he try?
Answers aplenty in the bye and bye
Talk about your plenty, talk about your ills
One man gathers what another man spills.

“Saint Stephen”
by Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia

Stephen embraced an old word, dredged up from obscurity by chance:
a word encountered in the florid prose of Edward Bulwer Lytton.
It lodged in his mind, fastened itself to his meditations.
Despite its modest provenance, the word captured just what he was seeking.
Indeed, it was le mot juste, the inevitable word. The word was ‘pellucid’.
Its crystalline perfection scorned all that his murky faith held high.
Clarity was what was missing. As conviction rises, so falls mere belief.
But mired in mere belief (a qualified belief at that), he longed for discernment,
for the bright line. Stephen’s tiresome questions made his priest wonder and sigh:
Did he doubt or did he try?

The agile mind is an unruly horse. An honest priest will admit as much.
This was Stephen’s conundrum. He yearned to rise above mere belief.
He sought conviction. He pursued a considered acceptance of doctrine.
But his unruly horse’s hooves kept kicking up dirt, leaves and twigs.
Between him and the bougainvillea beyond—so rapturously beautiful—
his agile mind always interpolated a dusty thicket of doubt and, try
as he might, it would not clear. Far indeed from a pellucid view!
Did God expect him simply to check his intellect at the door?
Stephen’s priest shushed him with the same, drooping battle cry:
‘Answers aplenty in the bye and bye’.

A more-than-usually-competent London solicitor, Stephen had nonetheless taken
a modest position with a not-for-profit. He wrote scholarly articles
on the law of trusts. His treatise in the Modern Law Review urging
a more liberal use of the cy-près doctrine was cited by the House of Lords
twice in decisions worth millions to struggling charities. NGOs were elated,
residuary beneficiaries dismayed. Evermore like Blake’s ‘dark satanic mills,’
the banks were overdue for a reminder that Law comes qualified by Equity.
Stephen was quietly pleased to have prompted it.
Long live principles first set down with quills!
Talk about your plenty, talk about your ills!

It was his beloved Forster’s Howards End that confirmed Stephen as a small-s socialist.
Mr. Wilcox’s portentous words to Margaret caused the book to tumble from
his twenty-year-old hands: ‘The poor are poor, and one’s sorry for them,
but there it is… As civilisation moves forward, the shoe is bound
to pinch in places.’ Bloody, bloody hell. He set his face, indeed his life, against all
the Henry Wilcoxes, in time using Equity to thwart them, to challenge their wills.
Now, there was a confirmation worthy of the word. Law and Equity gave him nuance
and subtlety to be sure, but unlike scripture, they supplied some bright lines too.
And tools to make the shoe pinch where it should. Scalpels. Mallets and drills:
One man gathers what another man spills.



[1] This decidedly English glosa takes its source poem quatrain (its cabeza in Spanish, from whence the glosa form is derived) from the song, ‘Saint Stephen.’ The song appeared first on the Grateful Dead’s album, Aoxomoxoa, and then again on Live/Dead. Both LPs were released in 1969 (the year the present poet turned 17).


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