Thursday, May 10, 2007

St. Helena's Parish May Procession, 1963

Arnold Schnabel passes through another stage in his journey in this sonnet published in the May 11, 1963 issue of the "Olney Times". The grounds of St. Helena's church and school stood and still stand along Fifth Street, between Godfrey Avenue and Spencer Street. (Many thanks to the Arnold Schnabel Society.)

“May Procession”

It seems like forever just since Easter,
But it’s May Procession, and I stand as usher,
Hands folded, in my suit of blue polyester;
The Bishop says a prayer for the pagans of Russia,
And the line of children begins to glide
Slowly and full of bursting life up Godfrey,
The good sisters marching guard alongside;
And I march with them, scarcely worthy,
But I shuffle along anyway, as must be done;
I who once too was young and wore white;
I who once was pure and walked in the sun;
I who once did nearly everything right.
We march round Fourth, then turn down Spencer.
Soon I shall hand the Bishop the censer.

(For links to other inspiring poems from Arnold Schnabel, and to his mammoth memoir Railroad Train to Heaven, check the right hand column of this page.)


Nellie Spark said...

Would like to weigh in here to note the important rhyming of "user" and "Russia" that reveals Schnabel's pronunciation and started a whole school of rhyming poets who depended on personal pronunciation of country names.

nellie spark said...

So sorry. Comment should mark "usher" and "Russia."

Dan Leo said...

Very good point, Nellie. I actually had wondered about this issue myself, because in the standard old-school Philadelphia dialect "Russia" and "usher" are not exact rhymes; but then a little research in the dusty basement of City Hall revealed that Arnold's parents both hailed from Brooklyn, so perhaps he inherited some of that borough's pronunciation peculiarities. (Or, maybe he was simply willing to settle for a near-rhyme.)

Anonymous said...

I'm an Olney native and St Helena's grad (1962, the year before this pic was taken), but that doesn't look like 5th St anywhere near the church or school. It looks like there are trolley tracks in the street--indicating 5th st--but the buildings look like something further south on 5th, e.g. nearer Incarnation or St. Henry's. Can you identify the location depicted? Thanks for the memories, Dan. (I do remember Fink's Bakery!)

Anonymous said...

This picture is definitely not in Olney.

Dan Leo said...

Full disclosure: definitely not Olney! I think it's Dublin...