John Boyle O'Reilly

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

Liberty Lighting The World - Poem by John Boyle O'Reilly

MAJESTIC warder by the Nation's gate,
Spike-crowned, flame-armed like Agony or Glory,
Holding the tablets of some unknown law,
With gesture eloquent and mute as Fate,—
We stand about thy feet in solemn awe,
Like desert-tribes who seek their Sphinx's story,
And question thee in spirit and in speech:
What art thou? Whence? What comest thou to teach?
What vision hold those introverted eyes
Of Revolutions framed in centuries?
Thy flame — what threat, or guide for sacred way?
Thy tablet — what commandment? What Sinai?
Lo! as the waves make murmur at thy base,
We watch the somber grandeur of thy face,
And ask thee—what thou art.

I am Liberty,—God's daughter!
My symbols—a law and a torch;
Not a sword to threaten slaughter,
Nor a flame to dazzle or scorch;
But a light that the world may see,
And a truth that shall make men free.

I am the sister of Duty,
And I am the sister of Faith;
To-day, adored for my beauty,
To-morrow, led forth to death.
I am she whom ages prayed for;
Heroes suffered undismayed for;
Whom the martyrs were betrayed for!

I am a herald republican from a land grown free under feet of kings;
My radiance, lighting a century's span, a sister's love to Columbia brings.
I am a beacon to ships at sea, and a warning to watchers ashore;
In palace and prairie and street, through me, shall be heard the ominous ocean-roar.
I am a threat to oppression's sin, and a pharos-light to the weak endeavor;
Mine is the love that men may win, but lost—it is lost forever!
Mine are the lovers who deepest pain, with weapon and word still wounding sore;
With sanguined hands they caress and chain, and crown and trample—and still adore!
Cities have flamed in my name, and Death has reaped wild harvest of joy and peace,
Till mine is a voice that stills the breath, my advent an omen that love shall cease!
In My name, timid ones crazed with terror! In My name, Law with a scourging rod!
In My name, Anarchy, Cruelty, Error! I, who am Liberty,—daughter of God!—

Peace! Be still! See my torch uplifted,—
Heedless of Passion or Mammon's cause!
Round my feet are the ages drifted,
Under mine eyes are the rulers sifted,—
Ever, forever, my changeless laws!

I am Liberty! Fame of nation or praise of statute is naught to me;
Freedom is growth and not creation: one man suffers, one man is free.
One brain forges a constitution; but how shall the million souls be won?
Freedom is more than a resolution—he is not free who is free alone.

Justice is mine, and it grows by loving, changing the world like the circling sun;
Evil recedes from the spirit's proving as mist from the hollows when night is done.
I am the test, O silent toilers, holding the scales of error and truth;
Proving the heritage held by spoilers from hard hands empty, and wasted youth.
Hither, ye blind, from your futile banding; know the rights, and the rights are won;
Wrong shall die with the understanding—one truth clear and the work is done.
Nature is higher than Progress or Knowledge, whose need is ninety enslaved for ten;
My word shall stand against mart and college: THE PLANET BELONGS TO ITS LIVING MEN!
And hither, ye weary ones and breathless, searching the seas for a kindly shore,
I am Liberty! patient, deathless—set by Love at the Nation's door.

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Poem Submitted: Sunday, May 20, 2012

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