Josephine [poem by John O’Brien]

[Editor: This poem by John O’Brien was published in Around the Boree Log and Other Verses, 1921.]


The presbytery has gone to pot since this house-keeper came;
She’s up-to-date and stylish; but the place is not the same
Since Death’s hard summons robbed me of the sterling old machine,
That wore out in my service here — my faithful Josephine.

Poor Josephine, she knew me well — and, faith, she ought to know;
For since the bishop sent me here, some thirty years ago,
My one and only manager, my right-hand man she’d been;
I never had a word against my trusted Josephine.

She pottered round the place herself for thirty years and more —
This new one has a thuckeen now to sweep and mind the door
And entertain with parish chat each gossiping voteen*
She’d have no thuckeen near the place, would crabbed Josephine.

The tell me this one’s up-to-date — too up-to-date for me;
I tremble at her polished floors, and modern cookery,
The old man finds the old ways best-old springs were twice as green —
I’ve heard His Lordship praise the stews of clever Josephine.

My study was my sanctum once — a castle all my own —
But this one with her natty ways can’t leave the place alone.
Her fingers ache to tidy up; and, when she’s extra clean.
I sit a stranger in my room and sigh for Josephine.

She says that table’s “awful” and it drives her to despair;
Perhaps it does, but method’s in what seems confusion there —
I know where every paper is, each book and magazine.
That jumbled pile was sacred in the eyes of Josephine.

This new one hides my things away in pigeon-hole and drawer,
And, faith, she does her job so well, they’re lost for evermore.
She’ll have to learn to let things be as they have ever been —
Just make the bed, and sweep the floor, the same as Josephine.

And yet no sthreel was Josephine, for quick was she to note
My native country’s colour coming gently through my coat;
I teased her — said she ought to like the wearing of the green;
She couldn’t see a joke at all, poor, solemn Josephine.

She used to hide my battered hats; my old birettas, too,
Just when I had them broken in, would disappear from view.
I wondered where my wardrobe went, until by chance I’d seen
A tramp in full pontificals subscribed by Josephine.

I mind the time the bishop came, one day in early spring
We brought him round to see the school, and hear the children sing;
Bedad, I was a toff that day; you’d think I was a dean,
Or some commercial traveler — my thanks to Josephine.

My coat was pressed, just like a swell’s; the breeches that I wore
Had creases in them fore and aft like new ones from the store.
I smelt like some old motor-car, exuding kerosene;
I noted, too, the furtive glance of anxious Josephine.

She watched His Lordship’s portly form pass proudly o’er the mat,
His Majesty the curate next, with gloves and shiny hat;
I’d stuck an old biretta on, that better days had seen;
She came and dragged it off my head — ah, wisha, Josephine!

It sometimes strikes me, now she’s gone, she’d no drawbacks at all:
Her features just a shade severe, her age canonical,
In fashions of her mother’s day she trod her way serene,
And wasteful ways of worldly dames disgusted Josephine.

She knew the place from back to front, she knew the parish through,
And those who never went to Mass, and those who did, she knew;
The hours arranged for this and that — she had the whole routine —
And oftentimes to case a doubt I went to Josephine.

She thought I couldn’t make mistakes, not even if I tried;
She felt the Holy Ghost would send a mitre ere I died;
She lay in wait for wagging tongues — and, faith, her own was keen;
God help the one who dared complain in front of Josephine!

The people called her “curate,” yes, and “bishop” too, I hear;
They even called her “parish-priest” — in disrespect, I fear.
They told me that she’d “roon” the church — too long with me she’d been;
But only death could give the sack to faithful Josephine.

Ah, soft and sweet be sleep to her who friendless trod her track
Along the beaten road of life that knows no turning back.
I marked the splendid Irish faith that met the closing scene,
And heard the beat of angels’ wings that came for Josephine.

She’s in her lonely grave to-night beneath the Murray pines,
And haply in their breeze-swept song a requiem divines:
The people raised a little stone to keep her memory green,
And handed to the winds and rain the name of Josephine.

How quickly have the days gone by! she’s dead — now, let me see —
She’s dead twelve months: to-morrow is her anniversary:
Now who’s the Saint to-morrow? Ah, a semi — “Hedwig, Queen.”
I’ll use the black — and may God rest the soul of Josephine!

*A person who exaggerates his or her religious devotion.

Published in:
John O’Brien. Around the Boree Log and Other Verses, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1921

Editor’s notes:
bedad = an Irish exclamation, a euphemism for “By God”
Hedwig, Queen = Saint Hedwig, Queen of Poland (1373-1399); although in Poland she was known as Jadwiga (where she ruled as King, as Polish law had made no allowance for a Queen as monarch-ruler, however the law did not technically state that the King had to be a male)
sthreel = an unkempt or untidy woman (in another context, can also refer to a “slut”)
thuckeen = a young girl
voteen = a person who is a devotee in religion; nearly always applied in derision to one who is excessively and ostentatiously devotional [see: P. W. Joyce. English As We Speak It in Ireland, Longman, Green & Co., London, 1910, page 345]
wisha = an Irish exclamation; P. W. Joyce says that wisha is “a softening down of mossa” and defines “mossa” as “a sort of assertive particle used at the opening of a sentence, like the English well, indeed: carrying little or no meaning. ‘Do you like your new house?’ — ‘Mossa I don’t like it much.’ Another form of wisha, and both anglicised from the Irish má’seadh, used in Irish in much the same sense.” [see: P. W. Joyce. English As We Speak It in Ireland, pages 296, 351]

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