The Stylite by Rilke
In one great crowd, they pulsed above him — those
he either damned or blessed, condemned or chose.
Surmising he was lost, he looked aloft.
Escaping from the peoples’ stench, he rose
with clawing hands: he climbed a pillar's shaft
that seemed to rise forever, till it soared
no more. He started, all alone up there,
to match his sins, which were without compare,
against the shining glories of the Lord,
which had no end. He matched, but he could see:
the Other only grew, inducing awe.
And shepherd, farmer, rafter — each man — saw
him dwindling down, except when he
was wholly rapt in discourse with the skies
(which sometimes filled with rain, sometimes were fair).
And all the time, his howls, like wailing cries
that filled all faces, poured down from the air.
And still he did not see them there
for years, as all that crowd coursed down below
and ceaslessly replenished, and the bright
gear of the nobles never reached that height
to which its gleaming couldn't go.
But up there, when he felt close to damnation —
flesh torn to shreds by all their stubborn wars —
forlorn, and with a desperate, last-ditch yell,
he shook those daily demons off, and down
they thudded on the foremost ranks. They fell
in ponderous clumsiness from festering sores.
Gross maggots fell on every open crown,
and crawled in velvet propagation.(Tr. Len Krisak)