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Wandering the historic village of Hartley (just west of the Blue Mountains in NSW), we were thrilled when the men restoring the old Saint Bernard’s Catholic Church unlocked the front door.
My Uncle Richard, whose interest in sacred music and old church organs goes back many decades, delighted everyone with a short piece from his repertoire. A big thank you to the men who allowed us to respectfully wander through the church.
a poem by John O’Brien
A simple thing of knotted pine
And corrugated tin;
But still, to those who read, a sign,
A fortress on the farthest line
Against the march of sin.
Though rich man’s gold was lacking quite,
We built it strong and sure,
With willing hands and (Faith’s delight)
The savings spared, the widow’s mite,
The shillings of the poor.
Nor could it fail to meet the eye
And reverent thoughts instil,
As there above the township high,
And pointing always to the sky,
It stood upon the hill.
And through our lives in wondrous ways
Its holy purpose led
From limpid lisping cradle-days
To where the silent moonlight lays
White hands upon the dead.
For when the Holy Morning strung
Its beads upon the grass,
You’d see us driving-old and young-
The tall white graceful trees among.
On every road to Mass.
It brought the brave young mother there,
Surrounded by her brood,
To wrap their tiny hearts in prayer,
And teach them how to cast their care
Upon the Holy Rood.
It watched the little bush girl grow,
And kept her life from harm,
Till, spotless as the virgin snow
In wreath and veil, it saw her go
Upon her husband’s arm.
It blessed strong, trembling shoulders bent:
Helped many a soul in thrall
To climb again the steep ascent,
And reft the grim entanglement
That brought about the fall.
It soothed the gray old mother’s pain,
A-swaying while she told
Her rosary o’er and o’er again
For griefs that rent her heart in twain-
So new, and ah, so old!
(There’s “that poor boy who went astray,”
And lined her gentle brow;
There’s “them that’s wand’rin’ fur away,”
And “them that’s in their grave to-day”
And “beck’nin’” to her now.)
Refuge it gave the weary heart,
Beyond the sordid din
And conflict of the crowded mart,
One sweet, sequestered nook apart,
Where all might enter in.
Though high and grand cathedrals shine,
To my mind grander still
Is that wee church of knotted pine,
That rampart on the outer line
That stood upon the hill.
© Patrick Joseph Hartigan (1878-1952)
Today’s assignment was to create a poem from someone else’s work and turn it into something unique. Because this poem by Australian Bush Poet John O’Brien so perfectly captures the essence and flavour of what I saw today, I didn’t want to make any changes to the text. In the spirit of the writing assignment perhaps my photographs (and the organ music played by my Uncle Richard) add a little of my own flavour and create a new dimension to the poem.