And would not take form. She could not find

The beautifulness

For the Virgin's dress.

Should it be of pink, or damasked blue?

Or perhaps lilac with gold shotted through?

Should it be banded with yellow and white

Roses, or sparked like a frosty night?

Or a crimson sheen

Over some sort of green?

But Clotilde's eyes saw nothing new

In all the garden, no single hue

So lovely or so marvellous

That its use would not seem impious.

So on she walked,

And the others talked.

Sister Elisabeth edged away

From what her companion had to say,

For Sister Marthe saw the world in little,

She weighed every grain and recorded each tittle.

She did plain stitching

And worked in the kitchen.

"Sister Radegonde knows the apples won't last,

I told her so this Friday past.

I must speak to her before Compline."

Her words were like dust motes in slanting sunshine.

The other nun sighed,

With her pleasure quite dried.

Suddenly Sister Berthe cried out:

"The snowdrops are blooming!" They turned about.

The little white cups bent over the ground,

And in among the light stems wound

A crested snake,

With his eyes awake.

His body was green with a metal brightness

Like an emerald set in a kind of whiteness,

And all down his curling length were disks,

Evil vermilion asterisks,

They paled and flooded

As wounds fresh-blooded.

His crest was amber glittered with blue,

And opaque so the sun came shining through.

It seemed a crown with fiery points.

When he quivered all down his scaly joints,

From every slot

The sparkles shot.

The nuns huddled tightly together, fear

Catching their senses. But Clotilde must peer

More closely at the beautiful snake,

She seemed entranced and eased. Could she make

Colours so rare,

The dress were there.

The Abbess shook off her lethargy.

"Sisters, we will walk on," said she.

Sidling away from the snowdrop bed,

The line curved forwards, the Abbess ahead.

Only Clotilde

Was the last to yield.

When the recreation hour was done

Each went in to her task. Alone

In the library, with its great north light,

Clotilde wrought at an exquisite

Wreath of flowers

For her Book of Hours.

She twined the little crocus blooms

With snowdrops and daffodils, the glooms

Of laurel leaves were interwoven

With Stars-of-Bethlehem, and cloven

Fritillaries,

Whose colour varies.

They framed the picture she had made,

Half-delighted and half-afraid.

In a courtyard with a lozenged floor

The Virgin watched, and through the arched door

The angel came

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