John Boyle O'Reilly

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

The Three Queens - Poem by John Boyle O'Reilly

IN the far time of Earth's sweet maiden beauty,
When Morning hung with rapture on her breast;
When every sentient life paid love for duty,
And every law was Nature's own behest;
When reason ruled as subtle instinct taught her;
When joys were pure and sin and shame unseen;
Then God sent down His messenger and daughter,
His kiss upon her lips, to reign as Queen!

Her name was Liberty! Earth lay before her,
And throbbed unconscious fealty and truth;
Morning and night men hastened to adore her,
And from her eyes Peace drew perennial youth.
Her hair was golden as the stars of heaven;
Her face was radiant with the kiss of Jove;
Her form was lovelier than the sun at even;
Death paled before her: Life was one with Love.

O time traditioned! ere thy dismal sequel,
Men owned the world, and every man was free;
The lowest life was noble; all were equal
In needs and creeds,—their birthright Liberty.
Possession had no power of caste, nor learning;
He was not great who owned a shining stone;

No seer was needed for the truth's discerning,
Nor king nor code to teach the world its own.
Distinction lived, but gave no power o'er others,
As flowers have no dominion each o'er each;
What men could do they did among their brothers
By skill of hand or gift of song or speech.

Dear Golden Age! that like a deathless spirit
Fills our traditions with a light sublime;
Like wheat from Egypt's tombs our souls inherit
Sweet dreams of freedom from thy vanished time.

O Goddess Liberty! thy sun was cleaving
Its golden path across a perfect sky,
When lo! a cloud, from night below upheaving,
And underneath a shadow and a cry!

In lurid darkness spread the thing of error,
Swift ran the shudder and the fear beneath;
Till o'er the Queen's face passed the voiceless terror,
And Love grew pale to see the joy of Death.

Men stood benumbed to wait unknown disaster;
Full soon its sworded Messenger was seen;
'Behold!' he cried, 'the weak shall have a master!
The Strong shall rule! There reigns another Queen!''
Then rushed the forces of the night-born Power,
And seized white Liberty, and cast her down;
Man's plundered birthright was the new Queen's dower,
The sorrow of the weak ones was her crown.

Her name was Law! She sent her proclamation
Through every land and set her crimson seal
On every strangled right and revocation
Of aim and instinct of the common weal.
She saw the true Queen prisoned by her creatures;
Who dared to speak, was slain by her command.
Her face was lusterless. With smileless features
She took the throne—a weapon in her hand!

Her new code read: 'The earth is for the able'
(And able meant the selfish, strong, and shrewd):
'Equality and freedom are a fable;
To take and keep the largest share is good.'
Her teachers taught the justice of oppression,
That taxed the poor on all but air and sun;
Her preachers preached the gospel of possession,
That hoards had rights while human souls had none.

Then all things changed their object and relation;
Commerce instead of Nature—Progress instead of Men;
The world became a monstrous corporation,
Where ninety serfs ground luxury for ten.
The masters blessed, the toilers cursed the system
That classified and kept mankind apart;
But passing ages rained the dust of custom
Where broken Nature showed the weld of art.

But there were some who scorned to make alliance,
Who owned the true Queen even in the dust;
And these, through generations, flung defiance
From goal and gibbet for their sacred trust.
Then came the Christ, the Saviour and the Brother,
With truth and freedom once again the seed;
'Woe to the rich! Do ye to one another
As each desires for self '—man's primal creed.
But, lo! they took the Saviour and they bound him,
And set him in their midst as he were free;
They made His tied hands seal their deeds around Him,
And His dumb lips condemn fair Liberty!

'Then woe!' cried those faint-hearted; 'woe for dreaming,
For prayers and hopes and sufferings all in vain!'
O Souls despondent at the outward seeming,
Here at the cry, behold the light again!
Here at the cry, the answer and solution:
When strong as Death the cold usurper reigns,
When human right seems doomed to dissolution,
And Hope itself is wrung with mortal pains;
When Christ is harnessed to the landlord's burden;
His truth to make men free a thing of scorn;
God hears the cry, and sends the mystic guerdon,—
Earth thrills and throes—another Queen is born!
O weak she comes, a child and not a woman;
Needing our nursing and devotion long;
But in her eyes the flame divine and human,
To strengthen weak ones and restrain the strong.

Her name is Learning! Her domain unbounded;
Of all the fetters she commands the key;
Through her babe-mouth man's wrong shall be confounded,
And link by link her sister Queen set free.
Her hand shall hold the patriotic passes,
And check the wrong that zeal would do for right;
Her whispered secrets shall inflame the masses
To read their planet-charter by her light.
Round her to-day may press the base Queen's minions,
Seeking alliance and approval. Nay!
The day and night shall mingle their dominions
Ere Nature's rule and Mammon's join their sway.

Our new Queen comes a nursling, thus to teach us
The patience and the tenderness we need:
To raise our natures that the light may reach us
Of sacrifice and silence for a creed.

A nursling yet,—but every school and college
Is training minds to tend the heavenly maid;
And men are learning, grain by grain, the knowledge
That worlds exist for higher ends than trade.
Grander than Vulcan's are these mighty forges
Where souls are shaped and sharped like fiery swords,
To arm the multitude till Might disgorges,
And save the Saviour from the selfish hordes.

Around us here we count those Pharos stations,
Where men are bred to do their Queen's behest:
To guard the deep republican foundations
Of our majestic freedom of the West!
From our high place the broken view grows clearer,
The bloodstained upward path the patriots trod;
Shall we not reach to bring the toilers nearer
The law of Nature, Liberty, and God?


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Poem Submitted: Monday, May 21, 2012



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