John Boyle O'Reilly

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

Prometheus - Christ - Poem by John Boyle O'Reilly

LASHED to the planet, glaring at the sky,
An eagle at his heart—the Pagan Christ!

Why is it, Mystery? O, dumb Darkness, why
Have always men, with loving hearts themselves,
Made devils of their gods?

The whirling globe
Bears round man's sweating agony of blood,
That Might may gloat above impotent Pain!

Man's soul is dual—he is half a fiend,
And from himself he typifies Almighty.
O, poison-doubt, the answer holds no peace:
Man did not make himself a fiend, but God.

Between them, what? Prometheus stares
Through ether to the lurid eyes of Jove—
Between them, Darkness!

But the gods are dead-
Ay, Zeus is dead, and all the gods but Doubt,
And Doubt is brother devil to Despair!
What, then, for us? Better Prometheus' fate,
Who dared the gods, than insect unbelief—
Better Doubt's fitful flame than abject nothingness!

O, world around us, glory of the spheres!
God speaks in ordered harmony—behold!
Between us and the Darkness, clad in light,—
Between us and the curtain of the Vast,—two Forms,
And each is crowned eternally—and One
Is crowned with flowers and tender leaves and grass,
And smiles benignly; and the other One,

With sadly pitying eyes, is crowned with thorns:
O Nature, and O Christ, for men to love
And seek and live by—Thine the dual reign—
The health and hope and happiness of men!

Behold our faith and fruit!—

What demon laughs?
Behold our books, our schools, our states,
Where Christ and Nature are the daily word;
Behold our dealings between man and man,
Our laws for home, our treaties for abroad;
Behold our honor, honesty, and freedom,
And, last, our brotherhood! For we are born
In Christian times and ruled by Christian rules!

Bah! God is mild, or he would strike the world
As men should smite a liar on the mouth.
Shame on the falsehood! Let us tell the truth—
Nor Christ nor Nature rules, but Greed and Creed
And Caste and Cant and Craft and Ignorance.
Down to the dust with every decent face,
And whisper there the lies we daily live.
O, God forgive us! Nature never can;
For one is merciful, the other just.

Let us confess: by Nations first—our lines
Are writ in blood and rapine and revenge;
Conquest and pride have motive been and law—
Christ walks with us to hourly crucifixion!

As Men? Would God the better tale were here:
Atom as whole, corruption, shrewdness, self.
Freedom? A juggle—hundreds slave for one,—
That one is free, and boasts, and lo! the shame,
The hundreds at the wheel go boasting too.
Justice? The selfish only can succeed;
Success means power—did Christ mean it so?—
And power must be guarded by the law,
And preachers preach that law must be obeyed,
Ay, even when Right is ironed in the dock,
And Rapine sits in ermine on the bench!
Mercy? Behold it in the reeking slums
That grow like cancers from the palace wall;
Go hear it from the conquered—how their blood
Is weighed in drops, and purchased, blood for gold;
Go ask the toiling tenant why he paid
The landlord's rent and let his children starve;
Go find the thief, whose father was a thief,
And ask what Christian leech has cured his sin?
Honesty? Our law of life is Gain—
We must get gold or be accounted fools;
The lovable, the generous, must be crushed
And substituted by the hard and shrewd.
What is it, Christ, this thing called Christian life,
Where Christ is not, where ninety slave for ten,
And never own a flower save when they steal it,
And never hear a bird save when they cage it?
Is this the freedom of Thy truth? Ah, woe
For those who see a higher, nobler law
Than his, the Crucified, if this be so!

O, man's blind hope—Prometheus, thine the gift-
That bids him live when reason bids him die!
We cling to this, as sailors to a spar—
We see that this is Truth: that men are one,
Nor king nor slave among them save by law;
We see that law is crime, save God's sweet code
That laps the world in freedom: trees and men
And every life around us, days and seasons,
All for their natural order on the planet,
To live their lives, an hour, a hundred years,
Equal, content, and free—nor curse their souls
With trade's malign unrest, with books that breed
Disparity, contempt for those who cannot read;
With cities full of toil and sin and sorrow,
Climbing the devil-builded hill called Progress!
Prometheus, we reject thy gifts for Christ's!
Selfish and hard were thine; but His are sweet—
'Sell what thou hast and give it to the poor!'
Him we must follow to the great Commune,
Reading his book of Nature, growing wise
As planet-men, who own the earth, and pass;
Him we must follow till foul Cant and Caste
Die like disease, and Mankind, freed at last,
Tramples the complex life and laws and limits
That stand between all living things and Freedom!


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Poem Submitted: Monday, May 21, 2012



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