Context: The darkness of the human mind that leads to guilt and the frenzied, practically insane, drive and the means men use to purge themselves of this guilt are here explored through the dying speech of a Christian saint who does not want to be sainted. Obsessed with his guilt yet unable to determine its source, Simeon follows the route of the medieval saints who so hated their bodies that they tortured themselves in the hopes of earning heaven. He has tied coarse ropes around his loins until the ulcers betrayed his penance; he has lived for three years with his leg chained to a mountain crag; but, for most of his life, he has lived on the tops of great columns where, exposed to all kinds of weather, he has suffered privation, starvation, and the pains of exposure. After such a lifetime, he believes that he is about to die; still obsessed with his guilt, he prays for the last time, begging for forgiveness and hoping that his pain will allow him to enter heaven.
Altho' I be the basest of mankind,From scalp to sole one slough and crust of sin,Unfit for earth, unfit for heaven, scarce meetFor troops of devils, mad with blasphemy,I will not cease to grasp the hope I holdOf Saintdom, and to clamor, mourn, and sob,Battering the gates of heaven with storms of prayer,Have mercy, Lord, and take away my sin! . . .