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FATHER ROACH, by             Poem Explanation         Poet's Biography

Father Roach was a good Irish priest,
Who stood in his stocking-feet, six feet, at least.
I don't mean to say he'd six feet in his stockings;
He only had two-so leave off with your mockings-
I know that you think I was making a blunder:
If Paddy says lightning, you think he means thunder:
So I'll say, in his boots, Father Roach stood to view
A fine comely man, of six feet two.
O, a pattern was he of a true Irish priest,
To carve the big goose at the big wedding feast,
To peel the big pratie, and take the big can,
(With a very big picture upon it of "Dan,")
To pour out the punch for the bridegroom and bride,
Who sat smiling and blushing on either side,
While their health went around-and the innocent glee
Rang merrily under the old roof-tree.
Father Roach had a very big parish,
By the very big name of Knockdundherumdharish,
With plenty of bog, and with plenty of mountain:-
The miles he'd to travel would throuble you countin'.
The duties were heavy-to go through them all-
Of the wedding and christ'ning, the mass, and sick-call-
Up early, down late, was the good parish pastor:-
Few ponies than his were obliged to go faster.
He'd a big pair o' boots, and a purty big pony,
The boots greased with fat-but the baste was but bony;
For the pride of the flesh was so far from the pastor,
That the baste thought it manners to copy his master;
And, in this imitation, the baste, by degrees,
Would sometimes attempt to go down on his knees;
But in this too-great freedom the Father soon stopp'd him,
With a dig of the spurs-or-if need be-he whopp'd him.
And Father Roach had a very big stick,
Which could make very thin any crowd he found thick;
In a fair he would rush through the heat of the action,
And scatter, like chaff to the wind, ev'ry faction.
If the leaders escaped from the strong holy man,
He made sure to be down on the heads of the clan,
And the Blackfoot who courted each foeman's approach,
Faith, 't is hot-foot he'd fly from the stout Father Roach.
Father Roach had a very big mouth,
For the brave broad brogue of the beautiful South;
In saying the mass, sure his fine voice was famous,
It would do your heart good just to hear his "Oremus,"
Which brought down the broad-shoulder'd boys to their knees,
As aisy as winter shakes leaves from the trees:-
But the rude blast of winter could never approach,
The power of the sweet voice of good Father Roach.
Father Roach had a very big heart,
And "a way of his own"-far surpassing all art;
His joke sometimes carried reproof to a clown;
He could chide with a smile:-as the thistle sheds down.
He was simple, tho' sage-he was gentle, yet strong;
When he gave good advice, he ne'er made it too long,
But just roll'd it up like a snowball, and pelted
It into your ear-where, in softness, it melted.
The good Father's heart in its unworldly blindness,
Overflowed with the milk of human kindness,
And he gave it so freely, the wonder was great
That it lasted so long-for, come early or late,
The unfortunate had it. Now some people deem
This milk is so precious, they keep it for cream;
But that's a mistake-for it spoils by degrees,
And, tho' exquisite milk-it makes very bad cheese.
You will pause to inquire, and with wonder, perchance,
How so many perfections are placed, at a glance
In your view, of a poor Irish priest, who was fed
On potatoes, perhaps, or, at most, griddle bread;
Who ne'er rode in a coach, and whose simple abode
Was a homely thatched cot, on a wild mountain road;
To whom dreams of a mitre yet never occurred;-
I will tell you the cause, then,-and just in one word.
Father Roach had a Mother, who shed
Round the innocent days of his infant bed,
The influence holy, which early inclin'd
In heavenward direction the boy's gentle mind,
And stamp'd there the lessons its softness could take,
Which, strengthened in manhood, no power could shake:-
In vain might the Demon of Darkness approach
The mother-made virtue of good Father Roach!
Father Roach had a brother beside;
His mother's own darling-his brother's fond pride;
Great things were expected from Frank, when the world
Should see his broad banner of talent unfurl'd.
But Fate cut him short-for the murderer's knife
Abridg'd the young days of Frank's innocent life;
And the mass for his soul, was the only approach
To comfort now left for the fond Father Roach.
Father Roach had a penitent grim
Coming, of late, to confession to him;
He was rank in vice-he was steeped in crime.
The reverend Father, in all his time,
So dark a confession had never known,
As that now made to th' Eternal Throne;
And when he ask'd was the catalogue o'er,
The sinner replied-"I've a thrifle more."
A trifle?-What mean you, dark sinner, say?
A trifle?-Oh, think of your dying day!
A trifle more?-What more dare meet
The terrible eye of the Judgment-seat
Than all I have heard?-The oath broken,-the theft
Of a poor maiden's honour-'t was all she had left!
Say what have you done that worse could be?"
He whispered, "Your brother was murdered by me."
O God! groan'd the Priest, "but the trial is deep,
My own brother's murder a secret to keep,
And minister here to the murderer of mine-
But not my will, oh Father, but thine!"
Then the penitent said, "You will not betray?"
What I?-thy confessor? Away, away!
Of penance, good Father, what cup shall I drink?-
Drink the dregs of thy life-live on, and think!
The hypocrite penitent cunningly found
This means of suppressing suspicion around.
Would the murderer of Frank e'er confess to his brother?
He, surely, was guiltless;-it must be some other.
And years roll'd on, and the only record
'Twixt the murderer's hand and the eye of The Lord,
Was that brother-by rule of his Church decreed
To silent knowledge of guilty deed.
Twenty or more of years pass'd away,
And locks once raven were growing gray,
And some, whom the Father once christen'd, now stood,
In the ripen'd bloom of womanhood,
And held at the font their babies' brow
For the holy sign and the sponsor's vow;
And grandmothers smil'd by their wedded girls;
But the eyes, once diamond-the teeth, once pearls,
The casket of beauty no longer grace;
Mem'ry, fond mem'ry alone, might trace
Through the mist of years a dreamy light
Gleaming afar from the gems once bright.
O, Time! how varied is thy sway
'Twixt beauty's growth and dim decay!
By fine degrees beneath thy hand,
Does latent loveliness expand;
The coral casket richer grows
With its second pearly dow'r,
The brilliant eye still brighter glows
With the maiden's ripening hour:-
So gifted are ye of Time, fair girls,
But time, while his gifts he deals,
From the sunken socket the diamond steals,
And takes back to his waves the pearls!
It was just at this time that a man, rather sallow,
Whose cold eye burn'd dim in his features of tallow,
Was seen, at a cross-way, to mark the approach
Of the kind-hearted parish priest, good Father Roach.
A deep salutation he render'd the Father,
Who return'd it but coldly, and seem'd as he'd rather
Avoid the same track;-so he struck o'er a hill
But the sallow intruder would follow him still.
Father, said he, "as I'm going your way,
A word on the road to your Reverence I'd say.
Of late so entirely I've altered my plan,
Indeed, holy sir, I'm a different man;
I'm thinking of wedding, and bettering my lot-"
The Father replied, "You had better not."
Indeed, reverend sir, my wild oats are all sown.
But perhaps, said the Priest, "they are not yet grown:-
At least, they're not reap'd,-and his look became keener;
And ask not a woman to be your gleaner.
You have my advice!" The Priest strode on,
And silence ensued, as one by one
They pass'd through a deep defile, which wound
Through the lonely hills-and the solemn profound
Of the silence was broken alone by the cranch
Of their hurried tread on some wither'd branch.
The sallow man followed the Priest so fast,
That the setting sun their one shadow cast.
Why press, said the Priest, "so close to me?"
The follower answer'd convulsively,
As, gasping and pale, through the hollow he hurried,
'Tis here, close by, poor Frank is buried-
What Frank? said the Priest-"What Frank!" cried the other;
Why, he whom I slew-your brother-your brother!
Great God! cried the Priest-"in Thine own good time,
Thou liftest the veil from the hidden crime.-
Within the confessional, dastard-the seal
Was set on my lips, which might never reveal
What there was spoken-but now the sun,
The daylight hears what thine arm hath done,
And now, under Heaven, my arm shall bring,
Thy felon neck to the hempen string!"
Pale was the murd'rer, and paler the Priest.
Oh, Destiny!-rich was indeed thy feast,
In that awful hour!-The victim stood
His own accuser;-the Pastor good,
Freed from the chain of silence, spoke;
No more the confessional's terrible yoke
Made him run, neck and neck, with a murderer in peace,
And the villain's life had run out its lease.
The jail, the trial, conviction came,
And honour was given to the poor Priest's name,
Who held, for years, the secret dread,
Of a murderer living-a brother dead,
And still, by the rule of his church compell'd,
The awful mystery in silence held,
Till the murderer himself did the secret broach-
A triumph to justice and Father Roach.

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