John Boyle O'Reilly

(28 June 1844 - 10 August 1890 / Dowth Castle, County Meath)

America - Poem by John Boyle O'Reilly

NOR War nor Peace, forever, old and young,
But Strength my theme, whose song is yet unsung,
The People's Strength, the deep alluring dream
Of truths that seethe below the truths that seem.

The buried ruins of dead empires seek,
Of Indian, Syrian, Persian, Roman, Greek:
From shattered capital and frieze upraise
The stately structures of their golden days:
Their laws occult, their priests and prophets ask.,
Their altars search, their oracles unmask,
Their parable from birth to burial see,
The acorn germ, the growth, the dense-leafed tree,
A world of riant life; the sudden day
When like a new strange glory, shone decay,
A golden glow amid the green; the change
From branch to branch at life's receding range,
Till nothing stands of towering strength and pride
Save naked trunk and arms whose veins are dried;
And these, too, crumble till no signs remain
To mark its place upon the wind-swept plain.

Why died the empires? Like the forest trees
Did Nature doom them? or did slow disease
Assail their roots and poison all their springs?

The old-time story answers: nobles, kings,
Have made and been the State, their names alone
Its history holds; its wealth, its wars, their own.
Their wanton will could raise, enrich, condemn;
The toiling millions lived and died for them.
Their fortunes rose in conquest fell, in guilt;
The people never owned them, never built.
Those oldeti times! how many words are spent
In weak regret and shallow argument
To prove them wiser, happier than our own!
The oldest moment that the world has known
Is passing now. Those vaunted times were young;
Their wisdom from unlettered peasants sprung;
Their laws from nobles arrogant and rude:
Their justice force, their whole achievement crude.

With men the old are wise: why change the rule
When nations speak, and send the old to school?
Respect the past for all the good it knew:
Give noble lives and struggling truths their due;
But ask what freedom knew the common men
Who served and bled and won the victories then?
The leaders are immortal, but the hordes
They led to death were simply human swords,
Unknowing what they fought for, why they fell.

What change has come? Imperial Europe tell!
Death's warders cry from twenty centuries' peaks:
Platsea's field the word to Plevna speaks;
The martial draft still wastes the peasants' farms—
A dozen kings,—five million men in arms
The earth mapped out estate-like, hedged with steel;
In neighboring schools the children bred to feel
Unnatural hate, disjoined in speech and creed;
The forges roaring for the armies' need;
The cities builded by the people lined
With scowling forts and roadways undermined;
At every bastioned frontier, every State,
Suspicion, sworded, standing by the gate!

But turn our eyes from these oppressive lands:
Behold! one country all defenseless stands,
One nation-continent, from East to West,
With riches heaped upon her bounteous breast;
Her mines, her marts, her skill of hand and brain,
That bring Aladdin's dreams to light again!

Where sleep the conquerors? Here is chance for spoil:
Such unwatched fields, such endless, priceless toil!
Vain dream of olden time! The robber strength
That swept its will is overmatched at length.
Here, not with swords but smiles the people greet
The foreign spy in harbor, granary, street;
Here towns unguarded lie, for here alone
Nor caste, nor king, nor privilege is known.
For home our farmer plows, our miner delves,
A land of -toilers, toiling for themselves;
A land of cities, which no fortress shields,
Whose open streets reach out to fertile fields;
VVhose roads are shaken by no armies' tread;
Whose only camps are cities of the dead!
Go stand at Arlington the graves among:
No ramparts, cannons there, no banners hung,
No threat above the Capitol, no blare
To warn the senators the guns are there.

But never yet was city fortified
Like that sad height above Potomac's tide;
There never yet was eloquence in speech
Like those ten thousand stones, a name on each;
No guards e'er pressed such claims on court or king
As these Praetorians to our Senate bring;
The Army of Potomac never lay
So full of strength as in its camp to-day!

On fatal Chaeronea's field the Greeks
A lion raised—a sombre tomb that speaks
No word, no name,—an emblem of the pride
Of those that ruled the insect host that died.

But by her soldiers' graves Columbia proves
How fast toward morn the night of manhood moves.
Those low white lines at Gettysburg remain
The sacred record of her humblest slain,
Whose children's children in their time shall come
To view with pride their hero-father's tomb,
While down the ages runs the patriot line,
Till rich tradition makes each tomb a shrine.

Our standing army these, with specter glaives;
Our fortressed towns their battle-ordered graves.
Here sleep our valiant, sown like dragon's teeth;
Here new-born sons renew the pious wreath;
Here proud Columbia bends with tear-stirred mouth,
To kiss their blood-seal, binding North and South,
Two clasping hands upon the knot they tied
When Union lived and Human Slavery died!

Who doubt our strength, or measure it with those
Whose armed millions wait for coming foes,
They judge by royal standards, that depend
On hireling hands to threaten or defend,
That keep their war-dogs chained in time of peace,
And dread a foe scarce less than their release.
Who hunt wild beasts with cheetahs, fiercely tame,
Must watch their hounds as well as fear their game.

Around our veterans hung no dread nor doubt
When twice a million men were mustered out.
As scattered seed in new-plowed land, or flakes
Of spring-time snow descend in smiling lakes,
Our war-born soldiers sank into the sea
Of peaceful life and fruitful energy.
No sign remained of that vast army, save
In field and street new workmen, bronzed and grave;
Some whistling teamsters still in army vest;
Some quiet citizens with medaled breast.

So died the hatred of our brother feud;
The conflict o'er the triumph was subdued.
What victor King e'er spared the conquered foe?
How much of mercy did strong Prussia show
When anguished Paris at her feet lay prone?
The German trumpet rang above her moan,
The clink of Uhlan spurs her temples knew,
Her Arch of Triumph spanned their triumph, too.

Not thus, O South! when thy proud head was low,
Thy passionate heart laid open to the foe—
Not thus, Virginia, did thy victors meet
At Appomattox him who bore defeat:
No brutal show abased thine honored State:
Grant turned from Richmond at the very gat«!
O Land magnanimous, republican!
The last for Nationhood, the first for Man!
Because thy lines by Freedom's hand were laid
Profound the sin to change or retrograde.
From base to cresting let thy work be new;
'Twas not by aping foreign ways it grew.
To struggling peoples give at least applause;
Let equities not precedent subtend your laws;
Like rays from that great Eye the altars show,
That fall triangular, free states should grow,
The soul above, the brain and hand below.
Believe that strength lies not in steel nor stone;
That perils wait the land whose heavy throne,
Though ringed by swords and rich with titled show,
Is based on fettered misery below;
That nations grow where every class unites
For common interests and common rights;
Where no caste barrier stays the poor man's son
Till step by step the topmost height is won;
Where every hand subscribes to every rule,
And free as air are voice and vote and school!
A Nation's years are centuries. Let Art
Portray thy first, and Liberty will start
From every field in Europe at the sight.
'Why stand these thrones between us and the light
Strong men will ask: 'Who built these frontier towers
To bar out men of kindred blood with ours?'

O, this thy work, Republic! this thy health,
To prove man's birthright to a commonwealth;
To teach the peoples to be strong and wise,
Till armies, nations, nobles, royalties,
Are laid at rest with all their fears and hates;
Till Europe's thirteen Monarchies are States,
Without a barrier and without a throne,
Of one grand Federation like our own!

Comments about America by John Boyle O'Reilly

There is no comment submitted by members..

Read this poem in other languages

This poem has not been translated into any other language yet.

I would like to translate this poem »

word flags

What do you think this poem is about?

Poem Submitted: Monday, May 21, 2012

[Report Error]