Song of Pius X gerontion

PiusXAug201914

Shortly we will mark the centenary of the holy death of Pope St. Pius X. He breathed his last as the guns of August sounded. (Click HERE to read a homily about his all-important encyclical Pascendi.)

Cardinal Newman gave us Dream of Gerontius. And T.S. Eliot wrote a poem about an old man at the end of World War I. I imitate the genre with a (purely fictional) death song of Pius X.

He awakes, “O holy God,” on his lips.
Old, dimmed eyes see dawn light
through the gauzy window shades.

He manages to trundle over
and look out at the piazza.
“O blessed Apostle,

“Father of our line, whose bones
I guard, however ham-handedly,
hear me…

Madness crushed you here.
Your hands, that lowered the nets,
pierced like His.

The rage of a now-ancient
antagonism spilled your blood
and marked this spot,

this city, the See of the universal,
Catholic Father. Poorly
I have succeeded you,

and now sadness overwhelms
my waning days.
Hear me.

What I have known: Christ, and Him crucified.
The altar centering the world.
God.

But what I have seen: machines
clear, haul, lift, and
burn fuel.

Smoky now the fields where I plucked
the childhood grass.
Neighbors now

look at each other differently.
The simple calm of the psalms
ascending—

on this continent, the silence sits no more.
My several children have ignited
a burning fuse.

The twentieth century crackles like
kindling beside a bomb.
Barbarians move again.

O father! The promise of every turning
of the years: the simple facts,
taught to us

like children. We are children
to Him. We need simple lessons
and quiet.

We need peaceful days, so that
Time can serve the balm and nurture
the earth,

healing, soothing, fructifying,
enlightening by little stages
as wheat stalks grow.

The hidden fruit will come out, in color,
when a century can ripen
like a bunch of grapes.

Father, centuries have intervened, indeed.
Castles have fallen, old friendships grown cold.
But the net has not torn.

We have held on, like children
to what even our unlettered fathers
could teach us.

I have held fast. I have held fast,
too, to the trusting hands
of my children,

born to smell gunpowder on the air
and listen to evil essays in
evanescent irreligion,

the delusion that this age comes
unique and unencumbered with duty,
a canvas for marking

with the abstractions of hard-hearted
maladroits with cigars and facile
theories of love.

Now I die to the sound of howitzers.
O please, gracious father of our line,
may the hundred years

to come bring the re-establishment
for which I lived and died,
the quicksilver

movement of humble Christians who
look not at themselves, but at
our Lord. May we

wake up and hear a crisper rumble, like your very bones
rattling with life, the whole world Church
kneeling here, with bishop-saints

among them. After all, the wood
is green now, really. The smell of simplicity
still lingers in our sky.

But a century of death from now, the wood
will have dried. Our children then
will have to

die for the truth, like you.

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