One By One
With trust in God and her good man
She settled neath the spur;
The old slab dwelling, spick and span,
Was world enough for her;
The lamp-light kissed her raven hair
As, when her work was done,
She lined us up beside her chair
And taught us one by one.
And weaving memories, haunting sweet,
With threads of weal and woe,
The years went by on velvet feet —
We did not hear them go.
The world was calling everywhere
Beneath the golden sun;
When silver streaked her raven hair,
We left her one by one.
Then, turning back on cogs of pain,
The spool that ran so fast
Unwound before her eyes again
The pictures of the past.
The shadows played around her chair,
Where fancy’s web was spun;
When time had bleached her raven hair,
She called us one by one.
Oh, say not that we loved her less!
But write them to our shame,
The silence and the loneliness;
And then the summons came —
We found the dark clouds banking there
To hide the setting sun.
Ah, white threads in her children’s hair! —
We gathered one by one.
How quaintly sere, how small and strange
The old home and the spur;
But stranger this — the only change
Was wrought in us and her.
The lamp-light kissed her faded chair,
Where, ere the sands had run,
The sheen still on her raven hair,
She’d nursed us one by one.
Oh, vain the word that each could tell
With full heart brimming o’er,
That we, who ever loved her well,
Might still have loved her more!
Then back into the world of care —
To bless till life is done —
A memory crowned with milk-white hair
We carried one by one.
John O’Brien. Around the Boree Log and Other Verses, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1921