The Parish First Communions

. . . .
I am back again in the French convent and the austere, lovely morning,
thrilled with the mute mystery
of the day of First Communions—
the touch of cold water,
the curtains around the beds,
and the clean bare boards,
of the floor of the dormitory.

I know that sin is something
to be resisted strongly,
with all my heart.
I have the knowledge of innocence,
Learned by watching the flame
In the pale-faced nun
Who taught me
The lesson of sacrifice.

She smells of lemon soap and linen.
Her smile is an inward smile,
and her eyes of radiance
teach the innocent heart,
beating with austere joy,
that sin is a terrible thing,
redeemed by a passion of love.

There is a smell of flowers
filling the cloister.
We are moving slowly in ranks.
We are wearing long white veils
and bride’s dresses, down to our feet.

The thin, melodious singing
is the singing of angels
in the green paradise
of children in love.

And afterwards there is breakfast,
the breakfast for feasts,
with roses on the table
and the crimson May outside,
and a bird whose singing
fills my heart.

I think that my heart would break
for joy of that bird singing
right inside it,
were it not that the nun
restrains it with recollection—
and we must have perfect manners
and sit so straight at table.

There is a smell of coffee
and warm new rolls,
and each of us will have a banana
because of the feast.

I am back again
in the French convent
and the austere lovely morning,
thrilled with the mute mystery
of the day of the First Communions.

--Caryll Houselander
for those making their First Communion this May

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