John Boyle O'Reilly
The Patriot's Game - Poem by John Boyle O'Reilly
TEAR down the crape from the column! Let the shaft stand white and fair!
Be silent the wailing music—there is no death in the air!
We come not in plaint or sorrow—no tears may dim our sight:
We dare not weep o'er the epitaph we have not dared to write.
Come hither with glowing faces, the sire, the youth, and the child;
This grave is a shrine for reverent hearts and hands that are undefiled:
Its ashes are inspiration; it giveth us strength to bear,
And sweepeth away dissension, and nerveth the will to dare.
In the midst of the tombs a Gravestone—and written thereon no word!
And behold! at the head of the grave, a gibbet, a torch, and a sword!
And the people kneel by the gibbet, and pray by the nameless stone
For the torch to be lit, and the name to be writ, and the sword's red work to be done!
With pride and not with grief
We lay this century leaf
Upon the tomb, with hearts that do not falter:
A few brief, toiling years
Since fell the nation's tears,
And lo, the patriot's gibbet is an altar!
The people that are blest
Have him they love the best
To mount the martyr's scaffold when they need him;
And vain the cords that bind
While the nation's steadfast mind,
Like the needle to the pole, is true to freedom!
Three powers there are that dominate the world-
Fraud, Force, and Right—and two oppress the one:
The bolts of Fraud and Force like twins are hurled—
Against them ever standeth Right alone.
Cyclopian strokes the brutal allies give:
Their fetters massive and their dungeon walls;
Beneath their yoke, weak nations cease to live,
And valiant Right itself defenseless falls!
Defaced is law, and justice slain at birth;
Good men are broken—malefactors thrive;
But, when the tyrants tower o'er the earth,
Behind their wheels strong right is still alive!
Alive, like seed that God's own hand has sown—
Like seed that lieth in the lowly furrow,
But springs to life when wintry winds are blown:
To-day the earth is gray—'tis green to-morrow.
The roots strike deep despite the rulers' power,
The plant grows strong with summer sun and rain,
Till autumn bursts the deep red-hearted flower,
And freedom marches to the front again!
While slept the right, and reigned the dual wrong,
Unchanged, unchecked, for half a thousand years,
In tears of blood we cried, 'O Lord, how long!'
And even God seemed deaf to Erin's tears.
But, when she lay all weak and bruised and broken,
Her white limbs seared with cruel chain and thorn—
As bursts the cloud, the lightning word was spoken,
God's seed took root—His crop of men was born!
With one deep breath began the land's progression:
On every field the seeds of freedom fell:
Burke, Grattan, Flood, and Curran in the session—
Fitzgerald, Sheares, and Emmet in the cell!
Such teachers soon aroused the dormant nation—
Such sacrifice insured the endless fight:
The voice of Grattan smote wrong's domination—
The death of Emmet sealed the cause of right!
Richest of gifts to- a, nation! Death with the living crown!
Type of ideal manhood to the people's heart brought down!
Fount of the hopes we cherish—test of the things we do;
Gorgon's face for the traitor—talisman for the true!
Sweet is the love of a woman, and sweet is the kiss of a child;
Sweet is the tender strength, and the bravery of the mild;
But sweeter than all, for embracing all, is the young life's peerless price—
The young heart laid on the altar, as a nation's sacrifice.
How can the debt be canceled? Prayers and tears we may give—
But how recall the anguish of hearts that have ceased to live?
Flushed with the pride of genius—filled with the strength of life—
Thrilled with delicious passion for her who would be his wife—
This was the heart he offered—the upright life he gave—
This is the silent sermon of the patriot's nameless grave.
Shrine of a nation's honor—stone left blank for a name
Light on the dark horizon to guide us clear from shame
Chord struck deep with the keynote, telling us what can save—
'A nation among the nations,' or forever a nameless grave.
Such is the will of the martyr—the burden we still must bear;
But even from death he reaches the legacy to share:
He teaches the secret of manhood—the watchword of those who aspire—
That men must follow freedom though it lead through blood and fire;
That sacrifice is the bitter draught which freemen still mast quaff—
That every patriotic life is the patriot's epitaph.
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