John Boyle O'Reilly

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

The Unhappy One - Poem by John Boyle O'Reilly

“HE is false to the heart!' she said, stern-lipped; 'he is all untruth;
He promises fair as a tree in blossom, and then
The fruit is rotten ere ripe. Tears, prayers and youth,
All withered and wasted! and still—I love this falsest of men!'

Comfort? There is no comfort when the soul sees pain like a sun:
It is better to stare at the blinding truth: if it blind, one woe is done.
We cling to a coward hope, when hope has the seed of the pain:
If we tear out the roots of the grief, it will never torment again.
Ay, even if part of our life is lost, and the deep-laid nerves
That carry all joy to the heart are wounded or killed by the knife;
When a gangrene sinks to the bone, it is only half-death that serves;
And a life with a cureless pain is only half a life.

But why unhealed must the spirit endure? There are drugs for the body's dole;
Have we wholly lived for the lower life? Is there never a balm for the soul?
O Night, cry out for the healer of woe, for the priest-physician cry,
With the pouring oil for the bleeding grief, for the life that may not die!
'He is false to the heart!' she moaned; 'and I love him and cannot hate!'
Then bitterly, fiercely —'What have I done, my God, for such a fate?'

'Poor heart!' said the Teacher; 'for thee and thy sorrow the daily parables speak.
Thy grief, that is dark, illumes for me a sign that was dim and weak.
In the heart of my garden I planted a tree —I had chosen the noblest shoot:
It was sheltered and tended, and hope reached out for the future's precious fruit.
The years of its youth flew past, and I looked on a spreading tree
All gloried with maiden blossoms, that smiled their promise to me.
I lingered to gaze on their color and shape—I knew I had chosen well;
And I smiled at the death that was promise of life as the beautiful petals fell.
But the joy was chilled, though the lip laughed on, by the withered proof to the eye:
The blossoms had shielded no tender bud, but cradled a barren lie.
Before me it lay, the mystery—the asking, the promise, the stone;
The tree that should give good fruit was bare—the cause unseen, unknown!

'But I said: ' Next year it shall bourgeon, my part shall be faithfully done;
My love shall be doubled—I trust my tree for its beautiful strength alone.'
But tenderness failed, and loving care, and the chalice of faith was dried
When the next spring blossoms had spoken their promise smiled at the sun and lied;
The heart of the petals was withered to dust. Then, for duty, I trusted again;
For who should stand if God were to frown on the twice-told failures of men?
Unloving I tended, with care increased, but never a song or smile;
For duty is love that is dead but is kept from the grave for a while.

The third year came, with the sweet young leaves, and I could not fear or doubt;
But the petals smiled at the sun and lied,—and the curse in my blood leaped out!
'This corpse,' I cried, 'that has cumbered the earth, let it hence to the waste be torn!'
That moment of wrath beheld its death—while to me was a life-truth born:
The straight young trunk at my feet lay prone; and I bent to scan the core,
And there read the pitiful secret the noble sapling bore.
Through the heart of the pith, in its softest youth, it had bored its secret way,
A gnawing worm, a hideous grief,—and the life it had tortured lay
Accursed and lost for the cruel devil that nestled its breast within.
Ah, me, poor heart! had I known in time, I had cut out the clinging sin,
And saved the life that was all as good and as noble as it seemed!'

He ceased, and she rose, the unresigned, as one who had slept and dreamed;
Her face was radiant with insight: 'It is true! it is true!' she said;
'And my love shall not die, like your beautiful tree, till the hidden pain is dead!'


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Poem Submitted: Monday, May 21, 2012



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