John Boyle O'Reilly

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

Wendell Phillips - Poem by John Boyle O'Reilly

WHAT shall we mourn? For the prostrate tree that sheltered the young green wood?
For the fallen cliff that fronted the sea, and guarded the fields from the flood?
For the eagle that died in the tempest, afar from its eyrie's brood?

Nay, not for these shall we weep; for the silver cord must be worn,
And the golden fillet shrink back at last, and the dust to its earth return;
And tears are never for those who die with their face to the duty done;
But we mourn for the fledglings left on the waste, and the fields where the wild waves run.

From the midst of the flock he defended, the brave one has gone to his rest;
And the tears of the poor he befriended their wealth of affliction attest.
From the midst of the people is stricken a symbol they daily saw,
Set over against the law books, of a Higher than Human Law;
For his life was a ceaseless protest, and his voice was a prophet's cry
To be true to the Truth and faithful, though the world were arrayed for the Lie.
From the hearing of those who hated, a threatening voice has past;
But the lives of those who believe and die are not blown like a leaf on the blast.
A sower of infinite seed was he, a woodman that hewed toward the light,
Who dared to be traitor to Union when Union was traitor to Right!

' Fanatic! ' the insects hissed, till he taught them to understand
That the highest crime may be written in the highest law of the land.
'Disturber' and 'Dreamer' the Philistines cried when he preached an ideal creed,
Till they learned that the men who have changed the world with the world have disagreed;
That the remnant is right, when the masses are led like sheep to the pen;
For the instinct of equity slumbers till roused by instinctive men.

It is not enough to win rights from a king and write them down in a book.
New men, new lights; and the fathers' code the sons may never brook.
What is liberty now were license then: their freedom oar yoke would be;
And each new decade must have new men to determine its liberty.
Mankind is a marching army, with a broadening front the while:
Shall it crowd its bulk on the farm-paths, or clear to the outward file?
Its pioneers are the dreamers who fear neither tongue nor pen
Of the human spiders whose silk is wove from the lives of toiling men.

Come, brothers, here to the burial! But weep not, rather rejoice,
For his fearless life and his fearless death; for his true, unequalled voice,
Like a silver trumpet sounding the note of human right;
For his brave heart always ready to enter the weak one's fight;
For his soul unmoved by the mob's wild shout or the social sneer's disgrace;
For his freeborn spirit that drew no line between class or creed or race.

Come, workers; here was a teacher, and the lesson he taught was good:
There are no classes or races, but one human brotherhood;
There are no creeds to be outlawed, no colors of skin debarred;
Mankind is one in its rights and wrongs—one right, one hope, one guard.
By his life he taught, by his death we learn the great reformer's creed:
The right to be free, and the hope to be just, and the guard against selfish greed.
And richest of all are the unseen wreaths on his coffin-lid laid down
By the toil-stained hands of workmen—their sob, their kiss, and their crown


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Poem Submitted: Sunday, May 20, 2012



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