CELT document E880000-006

The Leper Priest of Lüneburg

Patrick Augustine Sheehan


The Leper Priest of Lüneburg

‘The Chronicle of Lüneburg records that during the year 1480, there were whistled and sung throughout Germany certain songs which, for sweetness and tenderness, surpassed any previously known in German lands. Young and old, and the women in particular, were bewitched by these ballads, which might be heard the livelong day. But these songs, so the chronicle goes on to say, were composed by a young priest who was afflicted with leprosy, and lived a forlorn solitary life, secluded from all the world... While all Germany sang and whistled his songs, he, a wretched outcast, in the desolation of his misery, sat sorrowful and alone.’ (Heine's Confessions; i.e. the Geständnisse of Heinrich Heine (1797–1857), written in the winter of 1854.)

1. The Student's Song

  • “A song! a song! let's have a song!”
    The chairman said. Through a night of smoke,
    In thund'rous music, loud and long,
    The German students' chorus broke,
  • Then ceased. And one clear, liquid note,
    High poised above the echoes dim,
    In long and lambent measure smote
    Their hearts: it was the students' hymn,
  • That sang of wine and war—the sword—
    Of all that's noble, high and free—
    Of all that's linked with that dear word,
    The students' camaraderie.
  • And pipes were poised; and lips apart
    Scarce breathed on the heaving air,
    And tears from many an eye did start,
    And cheeks would blush to find them there.
  • Till once again the chorus burst,
    Love-angry, fiercely questioning: 'Who
    Is this our poet? We will thrust
    Our honours on him; loyal and true,
  • We'll worship him, and laurel-crowned
    We'll toast him, whilst the spirits free—
    Grim Meistersingers— stand around
    This prince of German minstrelsy.'
  •  p.538
  • You may not see him—may not know
    His name: "but every student sprang
    To's feet, with many a heavy blow
    And fierce, hot word the chamber rang.
  • “Come! who's the singer?” “Rosenthal!”
    “Now, who's the poet?” 'Ah, to tell
    Would be a treason.' “Yes, you shall!”
    “The priest who tolls the leper bell!”
  • 2. The Soldiers' Song

  • Right face! quick march! at the command
    The Landwehr's sinuous lines unfold,
    The dragon of the Vaterland,
    With scales of steel and crests of gold.
  • The drums are beat! the trumpets blare,
    Euphonium sweet and piccolo
    High, harsh and shrill; the women stare,
    As down the strasse the soldiers go.
  • But say, what sets their teeth, what knits
    Their brows, what clenches till they crush
    The corded muscles—what spirit flits
    O'er whitened lips, and cheeks aflush,
  • Yet makes them calm when bullets hiss
    And steady while the sabres wave,
    Makes them forget the wife's last kiss,
    And dream of honour, or a grave?
  • And if the latter, well, what then?
    The violets o'er their dust will blow,
    And daisies star the grasses green,
    Where tears of pride will often flow
  • From eyes that glisten at the thought,
    'He loved me, but loved better still
    That Fatherland for which he fought,—
    Whose eagles crest each German hill.'
  • And if 'tis honour, God! what pride,
    As down the strasse the soldiers go,
    And bronzed and powdered feel the tide
    Of triumph through their pulses flow,
  •  p.539
  • And flags are waved, and torches flare,
    And bayonets flash the ruddy glow,
    And drums are beat and trumpets blare,
    Euphonium sweet and piccolo,
  • Ring out that march! The regiments cheer—
    That song of fire they know full well.
    Stand forward, Minnesinger dear!
    Alas! he tolls the leper bell!
  • 3. The Lover's Song

  • Above the Rhine—the silvery Rhine,
    That pictures as it swiftly floweth
    The storied ruin, the hallowed shrine,
    Haunted by shades of sage and poet,
  • Bowered in roses, thickly twined,
    Blossoms a maid, as sweet as they;
    So fair in form, so pure of mind,
    That lovers look, and pass away
  • In sheer despair; but one fair youth
    Hath whispered to the nightingale,
    And she had lent him tones of truth
    Wherewith to tell his lover's tale.
  • In vain! in vain! the maid hath heard
    Of a lost song that fell to earth,
    A song so sweet that brook nor bird
    For fleeting minds could give it birth.
  • And he, who shall this song eclipse,
    Or haply find it, should he seek,
    Shall pluck the cherries of her lips,
    And brush the peach-bloom of her cheek
  • And he hath wandered up and down,
    Love's pilgrim, with the guiding star
    Of her sweet eyes, from town to town.
    From Köln to the famed Weimar,
  • And thence to Avon's sacred stream,
    And then where turbid Arno rolls,
    Which in the sad poet's eyes saw gleam
    A lurid light from stricken souls.
  •  p.540
  • Till, broken, weary, from his quest,
    He walked the twilight of a dell,
    And dreamt that, as he sank to rest,
    He heard the echo of a bell,
  • And then a song of dreamland sweet,
    And sad and strong as wine or love.
    And while the mystic measures beat
    His brain, he thought of that fair dove,
  • Who haunts the Rhine—the purple Rhine,
    And wafted by Love's pinions fleet,
    He came, he sang, and from its shrine
    Her heart fell fluttering at his feet.
  • 4. The Sceptic

  • Well! life's a lottery, over which
    Some veiled divinity presides,
    And swings his treasure-box, full rich,
    But cares not how he shifts the slides,
  • Lint flings on men his varied gifts,
    Just as his rain and sunshine fall,
    Knows not the face his grace uplifts,—
    The hearts that wine and wealth enthrall.
  • But here's a thorn, and here's a rose, —
    This, solid pearl—this, liquid dew—
    And here are songs, and here are woes—
    And this for you, and that for you!
  • And now he takes this poet soul,
    And rivets it in bars of death,
    Bids it its mighty measures roll
    Through crumbling flesh and fetid breath,—
  • And memories of heaven awake
    With fleshless fingers on the keys
    Of women's hearts that throb and ache,
    And find in blood and tears such ease
  •  p.541
  • As throws a threnodied silence o'er
    The quivering chords of agony,
    Whilst the sad hours mute measures pour
    Of Time's eternal lullaby.
  • And then this prisoned brain must think
    For sages: and those bloodless lips
    Must drive the blood through nerves that shrink,
    Till kindled to their finger-tips,
  • The warrior's draughts of life inspire,
    And jest at death, and shout with glee,
    While the salt blood and salted fire
    Proclaim a fatal victory.
  • And all this time the owlets stare
    At cerement cloths, sepulchral cell,
    And children cry: 'Beware! beware!
    The man who tolls the leper bell!'
  • You call this order—love: I think
    'Tis chaos, hate, and cruel wrong;
    High heaven is shamed for loathsome link
    Of fleshless form and deathless song!
  • 5. The Believer

  • My friend, I see that your sad eyes,
    Dimmed by a glimmering mist that shapes
    To clouds the forms they would analyse,
    The magic mystery escapes
  • Of linked contrasts which we call
    The blundering of apprentice hand,
    Till at a word the curtains fall,
    And lo! serene, divinely-planned,
  • Each work stands forth, rounded complete,
    As when of old creation woke,
    And saw its priest, and at his feet
    Into a chorussed anthem broke.
  • We stare at beauties which enchant
    With contrasts that our senses vex,
    And visions oft the soul will haunt
    And please us while they sore perplex.
  •  p.542
  • Along the vaulted firmament,
    You'll find, as on the level land,
    Colours, and sights, and sounds are blent,
    And mingled by a master hand.
  • He never shows his gold but when
    He tips the spears of morn, and night
    Rolls her dim columns down the glen,
    Pierced by the lances of the light;
  • Or when the sun moves down the west,
    And coward night creeps up apace,
    He pauses as he sinks to rest,
    And flings his glory in her face.
  • And gold, and grey, and red and black,
    Contrast and blend in sympathy,
    As thunders in the wild storm-wrack
    Swoon to the silence of the sea.
  • But you would link, I think, you said,
    A poet-soul to angel-form;
    For fair blooms sweetest perfume shed,
    And beauteous lips the music-storm.
  • You know not that a poem is lit
    And kindled on the palm of God,
    Blown by his breath, wherever fit,
    The winged words He wafts abroad.
  • They find a sanctuary where'er
    A vestal soul its watch doth keep;
    And, as they spring in flame of prayer,
    Sad eyes that wept forget to weep.
  • Look up, my friend! Beyond that vault
    Is Heaven, and beneath is Hell:
    And both are God's. Then where's the fault
    In poet-priest and leper-bell?
  • P.A.S.

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    Title (uniform): The Leper Priest of Lüneburg

    Author: Patrick Augustine Sheehan

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    Electronic edition compiled by: Benjamin Hazard

    Funded by: School of History, University College, Cork and private donation

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    Extent: 2230 words

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    Publisher: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College, Cork

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    Date: 2014

    Distributor: CELT online at University College, Cork, Ireland.

    CELT document ID: E880000-006

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    • [Details to follow].

    Canon Sheehan on the Internet

    • http://www.canonsheehanremembered.com.


    • Canon P.A. Sheehan, 'The Leper Priest of Lüneburg,' The Irish Monthly, 17/196 (October 1889) 537–542.


    1. Matthew Arnold, 'Heinrich Heine,' Cornhill Magazine, 8 (1862), 233–49.
    2. Herman Joseph Heuser, Canon Sheehan of Doneraile: the story of an Irish parish priest as told chiefly by himself in books, personal memoirs, and letters (New York 1917).
    3. Arthur Coussens, P.A. Sheehan, zijn leven en zijn werken (Brugge/Bruges 1923).
    4. Michael P. Linehan, Canon Sheehan of Doneraile: Priest, Novelist, Man of Letters (Dublin 1952).
    5. Charles Wright, 'Matthew Arnold on Heine as 'Continuator of Goethe',' Studies in Philology, 65 (1968), 693–701
    6. Heinrich Heine, Memoiren und Geständnisse (repr. Zürich 1997).
    7. Patrick Maume, The Long Gestation: Irish Nationalist Life, 1891–1918 (Dublin 1999).
    8. R. F. Cook (ed.), A Companion to the Works of Heinrich Heine: Studies in German Literature, Linguistics and Culture (London 2002).
    9. Paolo Chiarini and Walter Hinderer (eds.), Heinrich Heine: ein Wegbereiter der Moderne (Würzburg 2009).
    10. Patrick Maume, 'Sheehan, (Canon) Patrick Augustine,' in: Dictionary of Irish Biography (9 vols, Cambridge 2009), vol. 8, 882–884.
    11. James O'Brien (ed.), The Collected Letters of Canon Sheehan of Doneraile, 1883–1913 (Wells 2013).
    12. James O'Brien, Canon Sheehan of Doneraile 1852–1913: Outlines for a Literary Biography (Wells 2013). [Bibliographical references 205–211].

    The edition used in the digital edition

    ‘The Leper Priest of Lüneburg’. In: The Irish Monthly: A Magazine of General Literature‍ 17.196. Ed. by Matthew Russell SJ, pp. 537–542.

    You can add this reference to your bibliographic database by copying or downloading the following:

      title 	 = {The Leper Priest of Lüneburg},
      journal 	 = {The Irish Monthly: A Magazine of General Literature},
      editor 	 = {Matthew Russell SJ},
      address 	 = {Dublin},
      publisher 	 = {Irish Jesuit Province},
      date 	 = {April 1889},
      volume 	 = {17},
      number 	 = {196},
      pages 	 = {537–542}


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    Creation: By Patrick Augustine Sheehan (1852–1913)

    Date: 1898

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    • The text is in English. (en)
    • Some words are in German. (de)
    • One word is in French. (fr)

    Keywords: poetry; 19c; folklore; religious

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    1. 2019-06-05: Changes made to div0 type. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
    2. 2014-03-28: File parsed; minor modifications made to header; SGML and HTML files created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
    3. 2014-03-27: Further structural mark-up completed; additions made to bibliography. (ed. Benjamin Hazard)
    4. 2014-03-12: Header created; structural mark-up added; file proofed. (ed. Benjamin Hazard)
    5. 2014-02-07: Text scanned. (file capture Benjamin Hazard)

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