[Literary passage] Prayer from The Thorn Birds

I’ll start this with a disclaimer: I do not recommend the novel The Thorn Birds. It’s too long; it’s not properly researched as regards the Australian landscapes where it’s set; and the worst, it’s a schizophrenic story.

The author apparently didn’t make up her mind about whether she wanted to defend the thesis that “love is always worth it, even if it makes you suffer” or if on the contrary, she wanted to convince us that “it’s foolish to spend your life pining for someone you can’t have”. She said in an interview that her intention was the latter; but the recurring theme of the “thorn birds”, which gives the novel its title, is actually a defence of the first idea.

So, The Thorn Birds is a protracted novel with a confused, unsatisfactory message and ending. And this is why I don’t recommend it.

But criticizing is easy, creating is hard. Ms. Colleen McCullough wrote a novel, got it published and saw it become a bestseller, which is more than I have ever done. And for this, she has my respect.

She also has my respect for creating this beautiful scene, in which a handsome, gifted and universally loved young man confides his secret pain to God.

There were huge padded red leather doors inside the vestibule of Saint Mary’s; Dane poked one open and slipped inside. (…) Head bowed, he genuflected and made the Sign of the Cross as he passed in front of the tabernacle, then quietly slid into a pew. (…)

He didn’t consciouly pray, but rather became an intrinsic part of the atmosphere, which he felt as dense yet ethereal, unspeakably holy, brooding. It was as if he had turned into a flame in one of the little red glass sanctuary lamps, always just fluttering on the brink of extinction, sustained by a smal puddle of some vital essence, radiating a minute but enduring glow out into the far darknesses.

Stillness, formlessness, forgetfulness of his human identity; these were what Dane got from being in a church. Nowhere else did he feel so right, so much at peace with himself, so removed from pain. His lashes lowered, his eyes closed. (…)

The organ gave off a few chords, quietened into a rippling accompaniment, and into the dim stone-lace arches one unearthly boy’s voice soared, thin and high and sweet (…):

Panis angelicus
Fit panis hominum,
Dat panis coelicus
Figuris terminum,
O res mirabilis,
Manducat Dominus,
Pauper, pauper,
Servus et humilis…


Bread of angels, heavenly bread, O thing of wonder. Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice! Let Thine ear be attuned to the sounds of my supplication. Turn not away, O Lord, turn not away. For Thou art my Sovereign, my Master, my God, and I am Thy humble servant. In Thine eyes only one thing counts, goodness. Thou carest not if Thy servants be beautiful or ugly. To Thee only the heart matters; in Thee all is healed, in Thee I know peace. Lord, it is lonely. I pray it be over soon, the pain of life. They do not understand that I, so gifted, find so much pain in living. But Thou dost, and Thy comfort is all which sustains me. No matter what Thou requirest of me, O Lord, shall be given, for I love Thee. And if I might presume to ask anything of Thee, it is that in Thee all else shall be forever forgotten…

Image: Detail from Still-life with apples and candle, by Petrus Van Schendel. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

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