Damiane

father_damien_photograph_by_william_brigham
Father Damien in the leper colony at Molokai.

Qui tandem populi campos coluere beatos?
anne Ada genitis hic habitare licet?
heu! genus infelix istaec per amoena vagatur;
heu! roseum tumulum funera viva tenent.
splendida crudelis sunt ista palatia Morbi,
hic domat albentem lurida Lepra gregem.
qua circumspicias – durus qui sustinet ista –
formae hominum turpes turpia membra trahunt.
os turgens, patulae nares, auresque ferinae;
lumina foeda natant, tuber ubique tumet.
rimosum corpus non corpus, vulnus hiulcum;
albedo nigrante in cute tetra magis.
carnes – horrendum! – pendentque caduntque peresae
tormentique comes non tolerandus odor.
luxuriae tandem malesanos adde furores,
queis in carne putri morbo agitante flagrant.
hos si quando ausit festinus visere nauta,
daemonas in caelo se reperisse refert.
tristia tu solus cunctanter litora linquis,
nec festinus abis, o Damiane pater!
te, Damiane pater, tulerat quem Belgica tellus,
mox animarum audax per freta misit Amor.
(Rudolph van Oppenraaij, Amor 25-42)

But what people inhabit these blessed lands? Can it be that Adam’s offspring live here? Alas! Unfortunate the race that wanders this delightful ground. Alas! Living corpses dwell in this flowery grave. This is the splendid palace of cruel Disease, lurid Leprosy plagues this pale throng. Everywhere you look (but who can endure the sight!) monstrous human forms drag their monstrous limbs. Swollen faces, gaping noses, misshapen ears; repulsive swimming eyes, and tumors everywhere. A fissured body that is not a body, with gaping wounds; the white spots the more hideous on their swarthy skin. Their flesh – oh, gruesome! – hangs and droops, eaten away, and a loathsome stench attends their agony. On top of all that there is the wild, raging madness that the festering disease ignites in their putrid flesh. Any hasty sailor that dares lay eyes on them reports back that he has seen devils in heaven. Only you are hesitant to leave this sorrowful shores, and do not hasten home, Father Damian! Oh Father Damian, sprung from Belgian soil: it was your bold Love of the living that sent you across the waves. (tr. David Bauwens)

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