John Boyle O'Reilly

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

Ensign Epps, The Color-Bearer - Poem by John Boyle O'Reilly

ENSIGN EPPS, at the battle of Flanders,
Sowed a seed of glory and duty
That flowers and flames in height and beauty
Like a crimson lily with heart of gold,
To-day, when the wars of Ghent are old
And buried as deep as their dead commanders.

Ensign Epps was the color-bearer,—
No matter on which side, Philip or Earl;
Their cause was the shell—his deed was the pearl.
Scarce more than a lad, he had been a sharer
That day in the wildest work of the field.
He was wounded and spent, and the fight was lost;
His comrades were slain, or a scattered host.

But stainless and scatheless, out of the strife,
He had carried his colors safer than life.
By the river's brink, without weapon or shield,
He faced the victors. The thick-heart mist
He dashed from his eyes, and the silk he kissed
Ere he held it aloft in the setting sun,
As proudly as if the fight were won,
And he smiled when they ordered him to yield.

Ensign Epps, with his broken blade,
Cut the silk from the gilded staff,
Which he poised like a spear till the charge was made,
And hurled at the leader with a laugh.
Then round his breast, like the scarf of his love,
He tied the colors his heart above,
And plunged in his armor into the tide.
And there, in his dress of honor, died.

Where are the lessons your kinglings teach?
And what is text of your proud commanders?
Out of the centuries, heroes reach
With the scroll of a deed, with the word of a story,
Of one man's truth and of all men's glory,
Like Ensign Epps at the battle of Flanders.

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Poem Submitted: Monday, May 21, 2012

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