The Altar-Boy [poem by John O’Brien]

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

The Altar-Boy

Now McEvoy was altar-boy
As long as I remember;
He was, bedad, a crabbéd lad,
And sixty come December.
Faith, no one dared to “interfere”
In things the which concernin’
’Twas right and just to him to trust
Who had the bit o’ learnin’
To serve the priest; and here at least
He never proved defaulter;
So, wet or dry, you could rely
To find him on the Altar.

The acolyte in surplice white
Some admiration rouses:
But McEvoy was altar-boy
In “Sund’y coat-’n-trouses.”
And out he’d steer, the eye severe
The depths behind him plumbin”
In dread, I wot (he once was “cot”),
The priest might, not be comin’:
Then, stepping slow on heel and toe,
No more he’d fail or falter,
But set likewise with hands and eyes
He’d move about the Altar.

A master-stroke of other folk
Might start the opposition,
And some, mebbe, in jealousy
Bedoubt their erudition;
But McEvoy was altar-boy
And, spite of all their chattin’,
It “put the stuns” on lesser ones
To hear him run the Latin.
And faith, he knew the business through,
The rubrics and the psalter;
You never met his “aikals” yet
When servin’ on the Altar.

The priest, indeed, might take the lead
By right of Holy Orders,
But McEvoy was altar-boy,
And just upon the borders.
So sermons dry he’d signify
With puckered brows behoovin’,
An’, if you please, at homilies
He’d nod the head approvin’;
And all the while a cute old smile
Picked out the chief defaulter;
Faith, wet or dry, the crabbéd eye
Would “vet” you from the Altar.



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”
crabbed = irritable and perverse in disposition, ill-tempered, surly (can also refer to something difficult to understand or read; complicated, cramped)

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