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The House of Prayer by Mabel Forrest

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They built a church on the city heights,
   A wonderful house of stone;
   The bravest building a man had known 
Or dreamt of in fancy flights.

They built it well from the city's gold,
   For the man of grief, they said,
   Who wandered the desert begging bread, 
Would repay them a thousandfold.

And good men preached of the end of time,
   Of the promise of years long gone,
   While under its shadow the world moved on
In sorrow and want and crime.

The choir sang there in the afterglow,
   The voices of angels born,
   Dreaming of earthly joys forsworn 
And the market place below.

Maidens brought flowers for altars bare,
   And danced off with eager feet,  
   Glad to be back in the sun-warmed street 
Where men called their faces fair.

The church spire reached thro' the misty blue,
   And the sparrows flew chirping by, 
   Wondering man should build so high 
To a God whom he never knew.

The stained-glass windows were emblems rare
   To the rich man's memory,
   With a Christ who silenced a stormy sea 
In the garb which the poor men wear.

Oh! They built a church for a lasting fame,
   For the city's saving grace,
   But the crime and grief in the market place
Are gathering -- just the same !

First published in The Brisbane Courier, 3 August 1901

Author reference sites: AustlitAustralian Dictionary of Biography

See also

The Idolators by C.J. Dennis

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The veil was rent, and mundane Time merged in Eternity;
And I beheld the End of Things.  I heard the Last Decree
Pronounced on all the World that Is, and Was, and Is to Be.

Rank upon rank before the Throne the Nations were arrayed,
And every man since Time began by his own act was weighed;
Till, to the Right, the diffident Elected stood dismayed.

For here the lowly Lazarus, and all his kind and ken --
Repentant knave and serf and slave and humble beggar-men --
In wonder looked from Damned to Throne, then on the Damned again.

Gaunt, tousled creatures of the streets still trembled, half in fear;
Weak women who had "sinned" for love, and common folk were here,
Facing the Lost, yet doubting  still that the Decree was clear.

For on the Left amid the Damned, a thousand million strong,
There stood a band of "righteous" folk -- a very "genteel" throng;
All much surprised and scandalised, and scenting "something wrong."

Here reigned Respectability 'mid virgins sour and chaste;
Prim, haughty dames, whose worldly aims had been in perfect taste,
Shorn of their pride, stood side by side with sweaters leaden-faced.

Strict folk, who ne'er had sinned without due reck'ning of the cost,
Sniffed disapproval and declared the function was a frost,
And vowed the angel-ushers erred in marking them as Lost.

Strange men there were of ev'ry age since Man did first increase,
From Adam on to Babylon, from Persia to Greece,
From Greece and Rome, to England, on till Time was bidden cease.

Courtiers were there, and prince and peer -- ay, even brewery-knights -- 
Preachers and parsons, Pharisees, Gentiles and Israelites,
Pharaohs and Caesars, Emperors and smug suburbanites.

Yea, every canting hypocrite since early Eocene,
In skin and silk and suit of mail and broadcloth stood serene,
Full sure his plight would be set right when the "mistake" was seen.

And, as they gazed, shocked and amazed, upon the chosen side --
On folk ill-clad in rags that had half-clothed them when they died --
Lord God, they're not respectable! Nay, have a care!" they cried.

Then stepped there forth, consumed with wrath, an unctuous alderman;
And, standing out before the Throne, he pompously began --
(In life he built a church, and many "charities" he ran) --

"Most High, the Heavenly Court, and Friends I do not wish to blame
Where blame is not deserved; but I protest it is a shame
That such a state of things exists; and I regret I came.

"I -- I, a pillar of the Church, a famed philanthropist,
Who, on a Sabbath went to chapel thrice, and never missed;
I, rich, respectable, am down on the 'Rejected' list.

"It is absurd, upon my word, when even Royalty
Is bid make way for yon array of rags and misery!
Ay, even vice, to my surprise, in their soiled ranks I see!

"'Tis past a jest; and I protest it is an insult when
That common, motley crew of low, ill-bred, unlettered men
Is set on high, while such as I are herded in this pen!

And, as he closed, the huddled rows of Damned caught up the cry ;
From many million "genteel" throats a shout went to the sky:
"Lord God, they're not respectable! Beware, beware, Most High!"

Close on their shout The Voice rang out, and took them like a flood;
Till king and khan and alderman and prince of royal blood,
And chief and lord and preacher cowered and trembled where they stood.

"Ye knew my life, ye knew my Law, ye mocked with hollow praise;
Ye knelt to me in blasphemy once in the Seven Days;
Then raised an idol in my place and went your idol's ways.

"To this ye turned; for this ye spurned the Man of Galilee;
And in your hearts ye sacrificed to other gods than me;
Nor ceased to crawl to it ye call 'Respectability.'

"And when its Law was not my Law, say, whither did ye lean?
Did ye heed my Word or seek to aid my humble folk and mean?
Ye prayed unto a myth and scorned the lowly Nazarene.

"E'en as ye judged my People here, so are ye judged and weighed;
But the humble mates of Christ the Carpenter today are paid.
My folk they be; I know not ye.  Go, call your god to aid."

And lo, adown the shining stairs, each with a flaming sword,
Avenging hosts of angels came -- yet howled the stricken horde,
"Lord God, they're not respectable!  Be warned in time, O Lord!"

Then yawned agape and greedily a horrid, fiery cleft,
And prince and king and alderman, of pomp and pride bereft,
Went, pressed like herded cattle, till no trace of gloom was left.

Yet, as they fell, the gates of Hell gave back a cry that came --
Now far and faint, a doleful plaint - all muffled through the flame,
"Lord God, they're not respectable!  O, King of Kings, for shame!"

First published in The Bulletin, 10 December 1908;
and later in 
Backblock Ballads and Other Verses by C.J. Dennis, 1913.

The Righteous Man by C.J. Dennis

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Is Sunday, and the man of prayer,
Of aspect mild and chastened look,
Kneels in the church, and worships there,
And bows his head upon a book,
Reading the lesson for the day.
He bleats devoutly,
                     Let us pray.

Is Monday, and the man of trade,
Of aspect keen and crafty look,
Sits in his den where schemes are laid,
And bends his gaze upon a book,
Planning the business of the day.
He softly mutters,
                     Let us prey.

First published in The Gadfly, 12 September 1906

Charity by C.J. Dennis

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Oh, loyal Orange breth-er-en.
I pray you act as Christian men,
And, should your spleen arise, count ten
   Before you speak.
Nay, bear me, brothers, I beseech.
Refrain from all un-Christian speech
Remember! He, whose Word we preach,
   Was ever week.

The lazy, low Italian,
The cheating, shifty Mexican -
All Papist creatures to a man;
   Avid brutes at that -
The scum that Rome's base agents skim
With mummery from ages dim.
Dear brothers, let us sing a n'ymn,
   And pass the bat.

Oh, Orangemen, I cannot find
Words to express my state of mind -
Fit epithets to name the kind
   Of brutish man
Who takes the word of Popery
Concerning dim eternity.
But, brothers, let us ever be
   Ker-is-ti-an.

Then, look upon the Irish too -
A miserable murd'rous crew!
They'll feed you up on Irish stew,
   Then cut your throat.
And - it is truth that I allege -
They'll shoot you from behind a hedge -
Dear brothers, recollect your pledge,
   And peace promote.

Oh, loyal, loving, Orangemen,
Be tolerant and kindly when
You preach about your fellow men.
   E'en as I be.
Be ever mild and circumspect.
(A curse on all the Popish sect!)
And brothers, brothers, recollect
   Sweet Charity.

First published in The Bulletin, 20 August 1908

The Safeguards of Society by C.J. Dennis

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The gift, too, is completely indiscriminate.  It is to be handed over in respect to every birth, legitimate or illegitimate ... Is this an indication that Labor despises the social and sentimental safeguards with which Society protects the family and defends the marriage-tie by damning illegitimacy as a proof absolute of immorality. - Melbourne AGE, on Proposed Maternity Allowance. (Also, see John viii., 10-11.)

Dear brothers, gather round, and let us pray
For guidance on this dark and dreadful day,
When our chief ruler black Sin recognises,
And Vice rewarded is with money prizes.

Five golden sovereigns for a child of shame!
O brothers, I entreat you in the name
Of our Great God, Respectability,
Shall we permit this sinful thing to be?

     (Christian brothers, let us pray;
     Sneers shall wash her sins away.)....

Shall we, the just and virtuous of the earth,
Give bounty for a nameless, shameless birth -
We, of the fortunate, who hither came
Already labelled with a father's name?

Shall we be cheated of our Holy Right
To cast the stones of sanctimonious spite,
And mean contempt and calumny and scorn
Upon the luckless love-child, basely born?

     (Holy brothers, let us pray:
     Stones shall bruise her sins away.)

Shall MAGDALENE be aided in her hour
Of Pagan joy and labor with a dower
Filched from the taxes that the righteous pay,
And go rewarded on her sinful way?

Shall our good money go to succor that
Unhappy woman and her nameless brat!
When she some secret means might well have sought
To save the insult that Its birth has brought.

     (Godly brothers, let us pray;
     Scorn shall wear Its life away.)

To save Society our curse is hurled
At her whose Crime is published to the world,
The wretch who braves the hatred of the Good,
And sins the sin of lonely motherhood.

The sniffs and sneers of all those godly folk,
Whose secret sins are hid beneath a cloak
Of righteousness that is a lifelong lie.
Alone can save the Sacred Marriage Tie.

     (Pious brothers, let us pray;
     God will hide our sins away.)

Yet, there was ONE in olden days, I ween,
Who looked with pity on the Magdalene;
One who forbore to hurl a scornful name
At her they brought HIM, taken in her shame.

E'en though she stood accused by godly folk,
Devout and upright men, no word HE spoke,
But turned away, and wrote upon the ground,
As though HE heard not them that stood around.

     (Gentle brothers, bend the knee
     To the MAN of Galilee.)

And when their savage, sneering tale was done
HIS scorn was not for that unhappy one,
But like whipped curs went forth the godly band,
Despising pity none could understand.

Alas, my Christian brothers, even HE
Failed in his duty to Society,
And found it in HIS simple heart to say:
"Neither do I condemn thee; go thy way."

     (Dearest brothers, pray with me
     For the gift of Charity.)

But, brothers, we, the godly of to-day,
Know that the stoning is the better way.
The path of truest Charity must lie
In scorn and sneers that, save the Marriage Tie.

Thus shall the followers of HIM, the Mild,
Brand with a hateful name the blameless child;
Pelt one poor sinner in the pillory;
And damn the other for eternity.

And never, while frail women fall to shame,
And luckless babes are born without a name,
Shall wicked statesmen with a pious sham,
Deprive us of our Holy Right to damn.

First published in The Bulletin, 4 July 1912

The New Bigot by C.J. Dennis

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Commenting on the concern expressed recently by certain churchmen over the modern growth of a cheap atheism and religious indifference, a leader writer remarks that, while the great scientists are never amongst the scoffers, the tendency of the shallow thinkers always is to win others over to his own easy unbelief.

He knows it all.  He makes no truce with doubt,
   No compromise with "Mayhap" or "Perchance";
Doctor and saint he is prepared to flout
   With all the dull-wit's easy arrogance.
Because some stray breeze struck his fragile barque,
It drifts, uncaptained, to the outer dark.

Some single book he read, some talk he heard
   Moves him to fling "old-fashioned" faiths behind,
To deem age-old philosophies absurd
   In the deep prescience of his "modern" mind,
He knows it all.  Not thro' long, labored thought;
But that his pansophy is cheaply bought.

So, knowing all and being deeply wise,
   Snatched, thro' his sapience, from an ancient "blight,"
His urge is ever to proselytise
   And bring his poor, blind brother to the light.
And ne'er did bigotry of long ago
Hurl bitterer taunts at that it would not know.

He is his own queer god, untrammelled, free,
   And on old "slaveries," with curious hate,
He heaps the mock-heroic blasphemy
   Of every twopenny sophisticate;
Failing, for all his prescience, to perceive
Blasphemy stultified lest one believe.

He knows it all . . . So, knowing all, speaks loud,
   He owns no fettering fears, no faith, no soul;
Before no altar is his proud head bowed;
   But, as about him universes roll --
Vast universes, infinite, remote,
   Heedless of this poor atom of the sod --
The challenge dying in his puny throat,
He gibbers, impotent: "There is no God!"

First published in The Herald, 10 June 1933

The Sabbath-Breaker by C.J. Dennis

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They are looking at me, good Christian folk,
   They are looking at me in scorn,
As they troop to church in their Sabbath dress,
And I lounge here in idleness
   This glorious Sunday morn.

They are sniffing at me with Christian sniffs,
   As they pass me, garbed in gloom;
Right glad am I as I sprawl at ease,
With a pipe and a book beneath the trees;
   But they've marked me down for Doom.

They are gazing at me, good Christian folk,
   And their gaze is dour and stern;
And their eyes are hard, and their lips are long,
For they heard me trolling a worldly song,
   And they look to see me burn.

Nay, what have I done, good Christian folk?
   And how have I earned your scorn?
May I not he filled with joy to see
The gifts the good God sends to me
   On this glad Sabbath morn?

Would ye have me wear a bilious air,
   And clothe myself in gloom,
And don my best black Sunday dress,
And walk in mournful righteousness,
   And ponder on the Tomb?

Nay, but all Nature laughs, good folk --
   Laughs at your mood austere.
The festive birds, the joyous trees,
The wooing of the wanton breeze,
   All bid me tarry here.

They are coming from church, good Christian folk,
   And their gloom has deepened thrice.
They are pondering what the preacher said
Of the mouldy grave and the wormy dead;
   They are storing his sage advice.

They are looking at me again.  God wot
   How have I earned such blame!
I feel glad life with ev'ry breath;
I cannot meditate on death
   Nor count my joy a shame.

Nay, let me be, good Christian folk.
   I pray ye let me rest.
For I cannot join ye here below;
If I join ye not where'er ye go,
I am quite content to have it so;
   For I should be sore oppressed.

First published in The Bulletin, 27 April 1911

Good Friday by C.J. Dennis

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So we forget?  The streets bloom gay
   With festive garments, many hued;
And man and maid laugh down the way
   With all the joy of life imbued.
Respite from toil, surcease from care
   Lend gladness to a merry voice,
As brother cries to brother there,
         "Let us rejoice."

Do we forget?  The garden blooms;
   Joy beckons from the sunlit hill,
Where now no triple shadow looms
   To cast o'er all the earth a chill.
This day is made for carefree souls!
   For holiday!  For Eastertide! ...
Yet, thro' it all a bell still tolls
         For One Who died. 

First published in The Herald, 17 April 1930

The M'Camley Mixture by W.T. Goodge

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         Jack M'Camley,
         Lank and long,
      Ox-persuader,
         Billabong.
      Bluff and hearty
      Sort o' party,
Got the "blanky" habit strong!

      Says the parson,
         Bright old bird,
      "Why'd you use that
         Horrid word? -
      (Jack looked grinful) -
      Not say sinful,
But most vulgar and absurd!"

      "It's the blanky
         Church, betwixt
      You and me, that
         Got me fixed!"
      Says M'Camley,
      "In our fam'ly
Things is all so blanky mixed!

      "There's me father -
         Whoa back, Dick! -
      Church o' Blanky
         England, stric'!
      There's me mother
      And one brother,
Roman-Blanky-Catholic!

      "But me sister -
         Way, you Stan!
      Don't them bullocks
         Rile a man?
      Kilts enticed her,
      Went and spliced a
Presby-Blanky-terian!"

First published in The Bulletin, 11 June 1898;
and later in
Anthology of Australian Religious Poetry edited by Les Murray, 1986; and
The Oxford Book of Australian Light Verse edited by R.F. Brissenden and Philip Grundy, 1991.

Author reference sites: Austlit, Australian Poetry Library

See also.

The Parson and the Prelate by Creeve Roe (Victor Daley)

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I saw a Parson on a bike --
   A parody on things --
His coat-tails flapped behind him like
   A pair of caudal wings.

His coat was of a shiny green,
   His hat was rusty brown;
He was a weird, wild sight, I ween,
   Careering through the town.

What perched him on a wheel at all,
  And made him race and rip?
Had he, perchance, a sudden call
   To some rich rectorship?

He'd no such call; he raced and ran
   To kneel and pray beside
The bedside of a dying man,
   Who poor as Peter died.

I saw a Prelate, plump and fine,
   Who gleamed with sanctity;
He was the finest-groomed divine
   That you could wish to see.

His smile was bland; his air was grand;
   His coat was black, and shone
As did the tents of Kedar and
   The robes of Solomon.

And in a carriage fine and fair
   He lounged in lordly ease --
It was a carriage and a pair --
   And nursed his gaitered knees.

And whither went he, and what for,
   With all this pomp and show?
He went to see the Governor,
   And that is all I know.

But in a vision of the night,
   When deep dreams come to men,
I saw a strange and curious sight --
   The Prelate once again.

He sat ungaitered, and undone,
   A picture of dismay --
His carriage was too broad to run
   Along the Narrow Way!

But, with his coat-tails flapping like
   Black caudal wings in wrath,
I saw the Parson on the bike
   Sprint up the Shining Path.

First published in The Bulletin, 5 May 1904;
and later in
The Penguin Book of Australian Humorous Verse edited by Bill Scott, 1984;
Anthology of Australian Religious Verse edited by Les Murray, 1986;
An Australian Treasury of Popular Verse edited by Jim Haynes, 2002; and
Two Centuries of Australian Poetry edited by Kathrine Bell, 2007.

Author reference sites: Austlit, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Australian Poetry Library

See also.

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