Little Churches [poem by John O’Brien, 1954]

[Editor: This poem by John O’Brien was published in The Parish of St Mel’s and Other Verses, 1954.]

Little Churches

’Twas the olden prophet saw them — when a niggard generation
Brought its weak things and its blind things to the sacrificial stone,
Saw the countless smokeless altars whence would rise the clean oblation
In a world-wide chain of worship offered to the Living Throne.

From the sunrise to the sunset! Did he understand the meaning?
Does the flute that pours the music feel the fullness of the song?
Did he know how Little Churches — little couplers intervening
In the girdle of Remembrance — to his prophecy belong?

From the rising to the setting: Noble temples rear their splendour
And their crosses cut the skyline like a victor’s flag unfurled
O’er the ramparts of the city; but in lights subdued and tender
Is a string of Little Churches stretching ever round the world.

Little Churches of the byways, all old-fashioned and out-dated,
With the pigeons in the belfry and the ivy to the sill,
Little Churches of the outposts by the long white roads located,
With a township in the making nestling sleepy ’neath the hill.

If a house is counted holy where was healed the ruler’s daughter
And if a dingy street remembered where a blind man saw again,
If a dank pool is immortal when an angel stirred the water
And a squat hill consecrated where a Saviour died in pain,

Who will speak of Little Churches though all human reason falters
And it’s only Faith’s great wisdom that can counteract the loss ?
Just for one Remembrance surely on their rough-made wooden altars
They are first of holy places rivalled only by the Cross.

Great His Name among the Gentiles: Did the old man hear the chorus
World-wide and for ever round the regal baldachin?
Did he hear the great cathedrals pealing booming notes sonorous
And the bells of Little Churches proudly chiming in?

Little Churches drab and ageing, with the mating pigeons cooing
And the bush and wholesome ivy twining laurels round the past,
Little Churches trim and handsome in a colder day renewing
All the Love and Hope the gibbet crowned with victory at the last.

From the sunrise to the sunset and unto the sun’s returning,
Be it over drought-brown places or green uplands frost-imperilled,
As a ruby on the bosom is the lamp for ever burning
In a chain of Little Churches on the skyline of the world.

Published in:
John O’Brien. The Parish of St Mel’s and Other Verses, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1954

Editor’s notes:
baldachin = a cloth canopy emplaced or carried over an important person or a sacred object
niggard = a mean, ungenerous, miserly, stingy person

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