John Boyle O'Reilly

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

Dying In Harness - Poem by John Boyle O'Reilly

ONLY a fallen horse, stretched out there on the road.
Stretched in the broken shafts, and crushed by the heavy load;
Only a fallen horse, and a circle of wondering eyes
Watching the 'frighted teamster goading the beast to rise.

Hold! for his toil is over—no more labor for him;
See the poor neck outstretched, and the patient eyes grow dim;
See on the friendly stones how peacefully rests the head
Thinking, if dumb beasts think, how good it is to be dead;
After the weary journey, how restful it is to lie
With the broken shafts and the cruel load—waiting only to die.

Watchers, he died in harness—died in the shafts and straps—
Fell, and the burden killed him: one of the day's mishaps—
One of the passing wonders marking the city road—
A toiler dying in harness, heedless of call or goad.

Passers, crowding the pathway, staying your steps awhile,
What is the symbol ? Only death—why should we cease to smile
At death for a beast of burden? On, through the busy street
That is ever and ever echoing the tread of the hurrying feet.

What was the sign? A symbol to touch the tireless will?
Does He who taught in parables speak in parables still?
The seed on the rock is wasted—on heedless hearts of men,
That gather and sow and grasp and lose—labor and sleep— and then—
Then for the prize!—A crowd in the street of ever-echoing tread—
The toiler, crushed by the heavy load, is there in his harness—dead!

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Poem Submitted: Monday, May 21, 2012

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