There lived in a monastery a young monk by the name of Urbanus, devout and diligent by nature, and entrusted with the keys to the monastery’s book collection; and he conscientiously watched over this treasure, wrote many beautiful books and studied a great deal the other books as well as Holy Scripture. There he found among the Paul’s epistles the bible passage ‘For God a thousand years are as one day or as a watch in the night’. This seemed completely impossible to the young monk, he could not believe it or get his mind round it, and he tormented himself in doubt and speculation.
One morning it so happened that the monk went down from the gloomy library out into the sunlit, beautiful monastery garden, there sat a little speckled woodland bird, it looked for small grains of corn and flew up onto a branch, where it sang so wonderfully delightfully. – Nor was the little bird the slightest bit shy, it allowed the monk to come right up close to it and he would have liked to grasp it, but the bird flew from tree to tree, the monk followed after it, and still it sang with a clear, delightful voice, but it refused to let itself be caught, even though the monk pursued it quite a way from the monastery and into the wood. He finally gave up and turned back towards the monastery; but everything he saw now seemed changed to him. Everything had become more extensive, larger and more beautiful, both the building and the garden, and instead of the low, old small monastery church there now stood a mighty cathedral with three towers. It all seemed strange and almost magical to the monk. And when he came to the monastery door and hesitatingly pulled the bell-rope, an unknown doorman came towards him who recoiled aghast at the sight of him. – Now the monk walked through the monastery graveyard, where there were so many many gravestones that he could not recall having seen before. And when he now entered in among the other brethren, they all shrank away from him. Only the abbot, but not his abbot, a completely different one, younger, stood his ground and stretched out a crucifix towards him, exclaiming: ‘In the name of the one crucified on the cross, who are you ill-fated spirit, risen from the grave, what do you seek here among the living!’
Then a shudder passed through the monk, and he reeled like an old man reels, and lowered his eyes towards the ground. See, he now had a long silver-white beard that reached down over his belt, to which the bunch of keys to the locked bookcases still hung. The monks, who saw in him a mysterious stranger, led him with timid reverence over to the abbot’s seat. There the latter gave a young monk the key to the library, he opened it and brought out a chronicle, in which there stood that three hundred years earlier a monk by the name of Urbanus had suddenly disappeared without trace; nobody knew if he had fled or been killed in an accident.
‘Oh, woodland bird! was it your song!’ the stranger said with a sigh. ‘I followed you for less than three minutes and listened to you song, and during that time three centuries passed. You have sung my song about eternity, the one that I could not grasp. Now I understand it and worship God, I who myself am but a grain of dust!’ he said, bowed his head and his limbs dissolved into dust. –