Epiphany Epode

Those who have followed this blog over the past couple of years (poor souls!) have perhaps noticed my keen interest in a certain obscure 20th century New England poet by the name of Thomas John McSheey (1899-1935).

Scholars have referred to McSheey as "the misunderstood poet." Critics have referred to him as "the lunatic poet." And his landlord called him "the deadbeat poet," probably because he never paid his rent on time.

Throughout his short life, McSheey wrestled with his belief in God. Born into a devout Catholic household, he later in life turned away from his religious upbringing and dabbled in paganism, although he occasionally found his way back to the church. During one of those religious episodes, he penned the following epode, which was later set to music by composer George Adamson to become a hymn, which was first performed on the occasion of the Epiphany during an evening mass at Our Lady of Claire parish in West Quabbin, New Hampshire ... and which I present here on the occasion of the Epiphany.



The epiphany - two thousand years removed from,

the blessed event,

The religious images remain sharp and focused and crystalline,

in our collective brow,

There, in a manger, in the little town, a holy light,

shines down,

From on high upon the newborn babe, wrapped,

in swaddling clothes,

Before him kneels his mother; nearby stands,

his father,

Around them in the manger, various beasts of burden, an image,

real and pure,

The rare appearance of a new star,

in the night sky,

An angel visits shepherds tending their flocks to announce,

the birth.

Magi arrive from the East, led by,

the celestial,

With gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, in honor of,

the holy,

Two millennia later - unquestionable, undeniable,


Undaunted, undefeated, unrest in,

a holy land.


McSheey later said he did not remember writing this epode, and in fact, Adamson later remarked that he could not recall composing the music either. Further, the entire choir of Our Lady of Claire could not remember singing it, and even the gentleman who tuned the church organ claimed ignorance to the whole episode.

Within a year, McSheey had once again become a pagan - worshiping trees and bushes and strange-looking boulders and certain random arrangements of twigs he might find scattered on the ground - as evidenced by the following poem he wrote to mark the winter solstice:


Ode to an Oak Tree

I imagine there exists a God,

For those with such belief,

Just as I know there is a branch, somewhere,

For each fallen autumn leaf,

Religions are like the oak leaves,

Each comes in a different hue,

I'm not sure if I believe in God, per se,

But mighty oak, I certainly believe in you!


As was the case throughout his life, McSheey found no audience for his pagan poetry, and thus no income. This caused his landlord to eventually slip under his door a little note entitled "Ode to an Eviction Notice," which began:

Dear Mr. McSheey,

I imagine there exists a tenant,

Who pays his monthly rent,

Unfortunately you ain't that guy,

So with this note you're being sent,

Notice to evict, henceforth,

And that means today,

So pack up your bloody things,

Vamoose, good riddance, on your way!"


Jack Sheedy

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