John Boyle O'Reilly

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

The Exile Of The Gael - Poem by John Boyle O'Reilly

IT is sweet to rejoice for a day,—
For a day that is reached at last!
It is well for wanderers in new lands,
Slow climbers toward a lofty mountain pass,
Yearning with hearts and eyes strained ever upward,
To pause, and rest, on the summit,—
To stand between two limitless outlooks,—
Behind them, a winding path through familiar pains and ventures;
Before them, the streams unbridged and the vales untraveled.

What shall they do nobler than mark their passage,
With kindly hearts, mayhap for kindred to follow?
What shall they do wiser than pile a cairn
With stones from the wayside, that their tracks and names
Be not blown from the hills like sand, and their story be lost forever?

'Hither,' the cairn shall tell, 'Hither they came and rested!'
'Whither?' the searcher shall ask, with questioning eyes on their future.

Hither and Whither! O Maker of Nations! Hither and Whither the sea speaks,
Heaving; the forest speaks, dying; the Summer whispers,
Like a sentry giving up the watchword, to the muffled Winter.
Hither and Whither! the Earth calls wheeling to the Sun;
And like ships on the deep at night, the stars interflash the signal.

Hither and Whither, the exiles' cairn on the hill speaks,—
Yea, as loudly as the sea and the earth and the stars.
The heart is earth's exile: the soul is heaven's;
And God has made no higher mystery for stars.

Hither—from home! sobs the torn flower on the river:
Wails the river itself as it enters the bitter ocean;
Moans the iron in the furnace at the premonition of melting;
Cries the scattered grain in Spring at the passage of the harrow.
In the iceberg is frozen the rain's dream of exile from the fields;
The shower falls sighing for the opaline hills of cloud;
And the clouds on the bare mountains weep their daughter-love for the sea.

Exile is God's alchemy! Nations he forms like metals,—
Mixing their strength and their tenderness;
Tempering pride with shame and victory with affliction;
Meting their courage, their faith and their fortitude,—
Timing their genesis to the world's needs!

'What have ye brought to our Nation-building, Sous of the Gael?
What is your burden or guerdon from old Innisfail?
Here build we higher and deeper than men ever built before;
And we raise no Shinar tower, but a temple forevermore.
What have ye brought from Erin your hapless land could spare?
Her tears, defeats, and miseries? Are these, indeed, your share?
Are the mother's caoine and the banshee’s cry your music for our song?
Have ye joined our feast with a withered wreath and a memory of wrong?
With a broken sword and treason-flag, from your Banba of the Seas?
O, where in our House of Triumph shall hang such gifts as these?'

O, Soul, wing forth! what answer across the main is heard?
From burdened ships and exiled lips,—write down, write down the word!

'No treason we bring from Erin — nor bring we shame nor guilt!
The sword we hold may be broken, but we have not dropped the hilt!
The wreath we bear to Columbia is twisted of thorns, not bays;
And the songs we sing are saddened by thoughts of desolate days.
But the hearts we bring for Freedom are washed in the surge of tears;
And we claim our right by a People's fight outliving a thousand years!'

'What bring ye else to the Building?'
'O, willing hands to toil;
Strong natures tuned to the harvest-song, and bound to the kindly soil;
Bold pioneers for the wilderness, defenders in the field,—
The sons of a race of soldiers who never learned to yield.
Young hearts with duty brimming—as faith makes sweet the due;
Their truth to me their witness they cannot be false to you!'

'What send ye else, old Mother, to raise our mighty wall?
For we must build against Kings and Wrongs a fortress never to fall?'

'I send you in cradle and bosom, wise brain and eloquent tongue,
Whose crowns should engild my crowning, whose songs for me should be sung.
O, flowers unblown, from lonely fields, my daughters with hearts aglow,
With pulses warm with sympathies, with bosoms pure as snow,—
I smile through tears as the' clouds unroll—my widening river that runs!
My lost ones grown in radiant growth—proud mothers of free-born sons!
My seed of sacrifice ripens apace! The Tyrant's cure is disease:
My strength that was dead like a forest is spread beyond the distant seas!'

'It is well, aye well, old Erin! The sons you give to me
Are symbolled long in flag and song—your Sunburst on the Sea!
All mine by the chrism of Freedom, still yours by their love's belief;
And truest to me shall the tenderest be in a suffering mother's grief.

Their loss is the change of the wave to the cloud, of the dew to the river and main;
Their hope shall persist through the sea, and the mist, and thy streams shall be filled again.
As the smolt of the salmon go down to the sea, and as surely come back to the river,
Their love shall be yours while your sorrow endures, for God guardeth His right forever! '


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Poem Submitted: Sunday, May 20, 2012



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