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St. Peter At The Gate

Joseph Bert Smiley


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[This poem originally appeared in the Brooklyn Eagle in the 1930ís, under the title of Thirty Years With A Shew. It was founded upon the incidents of a case in the local police court. A woman had her husband hauled before a city magistrate for the alleged offenses of cruelty and neglect. The wife was such a garrulous witness against her husband that the judge became wearied with the womanís tongue, and he asked the husband how long he had been married. "Thirty years," replied the defendant. "Well," said the judge, "a man who has lived with this woman for thirty years has had punishment enough. Defendant, you are discharged."]

St. Peter stood guard at the golden gate,
With solemn mien and air sedate,
When up to the top of the golden stair,
A man and a woman ascending there,
Applied for admission. They came and stood
Before St. Peter, so great and good,
In hopes the City of Peace to win,
And asked St. Peter to let them in.

The woman was tall, and lank, and thin,
With a scraggy beard-let upon her chin.
The man was short, and thick, and stout,
His stomach was built so it rounded out;
His face was pleasant, and all the while
He wore a kindly and pleasant smile.
The choirs in the distance the echoes awoke,
And the man kept still while the woman spoke.

"O thou who guards the gate," said she,
"We two came hither, beseeching thee
To let us enter the heavenly land
And play our harps with the angel band.
Of me, St. Peter, there is no doubt.
There is nothing from heaven to bar me out;
Iíve been to meeting three times a week,
And almost always Iíd rise and speak.

"Iíve told the sinners about the day
When they repent of their evil way;
Iíve told my neighbors -- Iíve told Ďem all --
"Bout Adam and Eve and the Primal Fall;
Iíve shown them what theyíd have to do
If theyíd pass in with the chosen few;
Iíve marked their path to duty clear--
Laid out the plan for their whole career.

"Iíve talked and talked to Ďem loud and long
For my lungs are good, and my voice is strong,
So good, St. Peter, youíll clearly see
The gate of heaven is open for me.
But my old man, I regret to say,
Hasnít walked in exactly the narrow way;
He smokes and he swears, and grave faults heís got,
And I donít know whether heíll pass or not.

"He never would pray with an earnest vim,
Or go to revival, or join in a hymn,
So I had to leave him in sorrow there
While I, with the chosen, united in prayer;
He ate what the pantry chanced to afford,
While I, in my purity, sang to the Lord.

"And if cucumbers were all he got
Itís a chance if he merited them or not.
But, O St. Peter, I love him so.
To the pleasures of heaven, please let him go.
Iíve done enough, a saint Iíve been,
Wonít that atone? Canít you let him in?
By my grim gospel I know Ďtis so
That the unrepentant must try below.
But isnít there some way you can see
That he may enter, whoís dear to me?

"Itís narrow gospel by which I pray,
But the chose expect to find some way
Of coaxing, or fooling, or bribing you
So that their relations can amble through,
And say, St. Peter, it seems to me
The gate isnít kept as it ought to be.
You ought to stand by the opening there,
And never sit down in that easy chair.

"And say, St. Peter, my sight is dimmed,
But I donít like the way your whiskers are trimmed;
Theyíre cut too wide and outward toss;
Theyíd look better narrow, cut straight across.
Well, we must be going, our crown to win,
So open, St. Peter, and weíll pass in."
St. Peter sat quiet and stroked his staff,
But, in spite of his office, he had to laugh,
Then said with a fiery gleam in his eye,
"Whoís tending this gateway, you or I?"
And then he arose in his stature tall,
And pressed a button upon the wall,
And said to an imp, who came all aglow,
"Escort this woman to the regions below."

The man stood still as a piece of stone --
Stood sadly, gloomily, there alone.
A lifelong settled idea he had
That his wife was good and he was bad;
He thought if the woman went down below
That he would certainly have to go;
That if she went to the regions dim
There wasnít a ghost of a chance for him.

Slowly he turned, by habit bent,
To follow wherever the woman went.
St. Peter, standing on duty there,
Observed that the top of his head was bare.
He called the gentleman back and said:
"Friend, how long have you been wed?"
"Thirty years" (with a heavy sigh),
And then he thoughtfully added, "Why?"

St. Peter was silent. With head bent down,
He raised his hand and scratched his crown.
Then, seeming a different thought to take,
Slowly, half to himself, he spake:
"Thirty years with that woman there?
No wonder the man hasnít any hair.
Swearing is wicked; smokingís not good;
He smoked and swore -- I should think he would.

"Thirty years with that tongue so sharp?
O Angel Gabriel, give him a harp,
A jeweled harp with a golden string.
Good sir, pass in where angels sing;
Gabriel, give him a seat alone --
One with a cushion -- up near the throne.
Call up some angels to play their best;
Let him enjoy the music -- and rest.

"See that on the finest ambrosia he feeds;
Heís had about all the hell he needs;
It isnít just hardly the thing to do --
To roast him on earth and the future, too."

They gave him a harp with golden strings,
A glittering robe and a pair of wings,
And he said as he entered the Realms of Day:
"Well, this beats cucumbers, anyway."
And so the Scriptures had come to pass --
"The last shall be first and the first shall be last."








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