Last Rites

Original Text: 
F.R. Scott, F.R. Scott: Selected Poems (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1966): 174-75.
1Within his tent of pain and oxygen
2This man is dying; grave, he mutters prayers,
3Stares at the bedside altar through the screens,
4Lies still for invocation and for hands.
5Priest takes his symbols from a leather bag.
6Surplice and stole, the pyx and marks of faith,
7And makes a chancel in the ether air.
8Nurse too is minister. Tall cylinders,
9Her altar-boys, press out rich draughts for lungs
10The fluid slowly fills. The trick device
11Keeps the worn heart from failing, and bright dials
12Flicker their needles as the pressures change,
13Like eyelids on his eyes. Priest moves in peace,
14Part of his other world. Nurse prays with skills,
15Serving her Lord with rites and acts of love.
16Both acolytes are uniformed in white
17And wear a holy look, for both are near
18The very point and purpose of their art.
19Nurse is precise and careful. She will fail
20In the end, and lose her battle. Death will block
21The channels of her aid, and brush aside
22All her exact inventions, leaving priest
23Triumphant on his ground. But nurse will stare
24This evil in the face, will not accept,
25Will come with stranger and more cunning tools
26To other bedsides, adding skill to skill,
27Till death is driven slowly farther back.
28How far? She does not ask.
29                         Priest does not fight.
30He lives through death and death is proof of him.
31In the perpetual, unanswerable why
32Are born the symbol and the sacrifice.
33The warring creeds run past the boundary
34And stake their claims to heaven; science drives
35The boundary back, and claims the living land,
36A revelation growing, piece by piece,
37Wonder and mystery as true as God.
38And I who watch this rightness and these rites,
39I see my father in the dying man,
40I am his son who dwells upon the earth,
41There is a holy spirit in this room,
42And straight toward me from both sides of time
43Endless the known and unknown roadways run.
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire / Sharine Leung
RPO Edition: 
Special Copyright: 

Copyright © the estate of F. R. Scott. Included
with the generous permission of William Toye, his literary executor.