John Boyle O'Reilly

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

The Trial Of The Gods - Poem by John Boyle O'Reilly

NEVER nobler was the Senate,
Never grander the debate:
Rome's old gods are on their trial
By the judges of the state!
Torn by warring creeds, the Fathers
Urge to-day the question home—
'Whether Jupiter or Jesus
Shall be God henceforth in Rome?'

Lo, the scene! In Jove's own temple,
As of old, the Fathers meet;
Through the porch, to hear the speeches,
Press the people from the street.
Pontiffs, rich with purple vesture,
Pass from senate chair to chair;
Learned augurs, still as statues—
Voiceless statues, too—are there;
Vestal virgins, white with terror,
Mutely asking—what has come?
What new light shall turn to darkness
Vesta's holy fire in Rome?

Answer, Quindecemvirs! Surely,
Of this wondrous Nazarene
Ye must know, who keep the secrets
Of the prophet Sibylline?
Nay, no word! Here stand the Flamens:
Have ye read the omens, priests?
Slain the victims, white and sable,
Scanned the entrails of the beast?

Priest of Pallas, see! the people
Ask for oracles to-day:
Silent! Priests of Mars and Venus?
Lo, they turn, dumb-lipped, away!
Priest of Jove? Flamen dialis!
Here in Jove's own temple meet
In debate the Roman Senate,
And Jove's priest with timid feet
Stands beyond the altar railing!
Gods, I feel ye frown above!
In the shadow of Jove's altar
Men defy the might of Jove!

Treason riots in the temple
At the sacrilege profound:
Virgins mocked, and augurs banished,
And divinities discrowned!
Hush! Old Rome herself appeareth,
Pleading for the ancient faith:
Urging all her by-gone glory—
That to change the old were death.
Rudely answer the patricians,
Scoffing at the time-worn snare:
Twice a thousand years of sacrifice
Have melted into air;
Twice a thousand years of worship
Have bitterly sufficed
To prove there is no Jupiter!
The Senate votes for Christ!

Not aimless is the story,
The moral not remote:
For still the gods are questioned,
And still the Senates vote.
Men sacrifice to Venus;
To Mars are victims led;
And Mercury is honored still;
And Bacchus is not dead;—
But these are minor deities
That cling to human sight:
Our twilight they—but Right and Wrong
Are clear as day and night.
We know the Truth: but falsehood
With our lives is so inwove—
Our Senates vote down Jesus
As old Rome degraded Jove!


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Poem Submitted: Monday, May 21, 2012



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