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Tommy's Prayer

"Tommy's Prayer" was another of Frank Church's favorite poems, transcribed by hand from one of those old, small-print tomes (now lost) by the late Esther Church Bierwirth. Jean Bierwirth Bornt suggested that the poem could be sung as a "folk" song by using the same tune as "Raindrops on the Roof."

The poem no doubt has it roots in the same era as Dicken's England (A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield, etc.) where the Industrial Revolution of the mid-19th century had spawned a congeries of urban problems: child labor, poverty, disease, crowded tenements, disposability of human life and addiction to gin.

Coupled with the Romantic Era's penchant for sentimental and tragic subjects, authors of the age produced long poetic pieces like Tommy's Prayer - certainly one of the best of the genre when it comes to tugging at a reader's heartstrings from the Christian perspective.

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(traditional score arrangement by Dan & Jean Bornt)


(author unknown)
1800’s English poem
Sing to the tune of “Raindrops on the Roof”

In a dark and dismal alley where the sunshine never came,
Dwelt a little lad name Tommy, sickly, delicate and lame,
He had never yet been healthy, but had lain since he was born,
Dragging out his weak existence well nigh hopeless and forlorn.

He was six, was Tommy, t’was just five years ago
Since his drunken mother dropped him, and the babe was crippled so,
He had never known the comfort of a mother’s loving care,
But her cruel blows and curses made his pain still worse to bear.

There he lay within the cellar from the morning till the night,
Starved neglected, cursed, ill-treated, nought to make his dull life bright,
Not a single friend to love him, not a single thing to love,
For he knew not of a Saviour, or a heaven up above.

T’was a quiet summer evening, and the alley too was still;
Tommy’s little heart was sinking and he felt so lonely till
Floating up the quiet alley, wafted up inward from the street,
Came the sound of someone singing, sounding oh so clear and sweet.

Eagerly did Tommy listen as the singing nearer came –
Oh, that he could see the singer, how he wished he wasn’t lame.
Then he called and shouted loudly, till the singer heard the sound,
And on noting whence it issued, soon the little cripple found.

T’was a maiden rough and rugged, hair unkempt, and naked feet,
All her garments torn and ragged, her appearance far from neat,
“So yer called,” said the maiden, “wonder what yer want’s o’ me,
Most folks call me ‘Singing Jessie,’ wot may yer name chance to be?”

“My name’s Tommy, I’m a cripple, and I want to hear you sing,
For it makes me feel so happy – sing me something, anything.”
Jessie laughed, and answered smiling, “I can’t stay here very long,
But I’ll sing a hymn to please yer, wot I calls the Glory Song.”

Then she sang to him of heaven, pearly gates, and streets of gold,
Where the happy angel children are not starved or nipped with cold;
But where happiness and gladness never can decrease or end,
And where kind and loving Jesus is their Saviour and their friend.

Oh! How Tommy’s eyes did glisten as he drank in every word
As it fell from singing Jessie – was it true what he had heard?
And so anxiously he asked her: is there really such a place?
And a tear began to trickle down his pallid little face.

“Tommy, yer a little heathen: why it’s up beyond the sky,
And if yer will love the Saviour, yer shall go there when yer die,”
Then said Tommy, “Tell me Jessie, how can I the Saviour, love,
When I’m down here in this ‘ere cellar, and He’s up in heaven above?

So the ragged little maiden, who had heard at Sunday school
All about the way to heaven, and the Christian’s golden rule,
Taught the little cripple Tommy, how to love, and how to pray:
Then she sang a song of Jesus, kissed his cheek and went away.

Tommy lay within the cellar which had grown so dark and cold,
Thinking all about the children in the streets of shining gold,
And he heeded not the darkness of that damp and chilly room
For the joy in Tommy’s bosom could disperse the deepest gloom.

Oh! If I could only see it, thought the cripple as he lay;
Jessie said that Jesus listens and I think I’ll try to pray.
So he put his hands together and he closed his little eyes,
And in accents weak, yet earnest, sent this message to the skies.

Gentle Jesus, please forgive me, as I didn’t know afore
That yer cared for little cripples who is weak and very poor
And I never heard of heaven till that Jesse came today
And she told me all about it so I wants to try and pray.

You can see me can’t yer Jesus? Jessie told me that yer could
And I somehow must believe it, for it seems so prime and good;
And she told me if I loved yer, I should see yer when I die,
In the bright and happy heaven that is up beyond the sky.

Lord I’m just a cripple and I’m no use here below.
For I heard my mother whisper she’d be happy if I’d go;
And I’m cold and hungry sometimes, and I feels so lonely too,
Can’t you take me gentle Jesus, up to heaven along with you?

Oh I’d be so good and patient, and I’d never cry or fret,
And your kindness to me Jesus I would surely not forget,
i would love you all I know of, and would never make a noise
Can’t you find just a corner where I’ll watch the other boys?

Oh I think yer’ll do it, Jesus, something seems to tell me so;
For I feels so glad and happy, and I do so want to go
How I long to see you Jesus, and the children all so bright,
Come and fetch me, won’t yer Jesus? Come and fetch me home tonight.

Tommy ceased his supplication, he had told his soul’s desire,
And he waited for the answer till his head began to tire;
Then he turned towards his corner, and lay huddled in a heap;
Closed his little eyes so gently, and was quickly fast asleep.

Oh! I wish that every scoffer could have seen his little face
As he lay there in the corner in that damp and noisome place;
For his countenance was shining like an angel’s fair and bright
And it seemed to fill the cellar with a heavenly holy light.

He had only heard of Jesus from a ragged singing girl,
He might well have wondered, pondered till his brain began to whirl
But he took it as she told it, and believe it then and there
Simply trusting in the Saviour, and his kind and tender care.

In the morning when the mother came to wake her crippled boy,
She discovered that his features wore a look of sweetest joy,
And she shook him somewhat roughly, but the cripple’s face was cold
He had gone to join the children in the streets of shining gold.

Tommy’s prayer had soon been answered and the angel death had come.
To remove him from the cellar, to his bright and heavenly home;
Where sweet comfort, joy and gladness never can decrease or end;
And where Jesus reigns eternally, his Saviour and his friend.

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