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John Boyle O'Reilly (1844-1890)

Living


              1To toil all day and lie worn-out at night;
              2To rise for all the years to slave and sleep,
              3And breed new broods to do no other thing
              4In toiling, bearing, breeding -- life is this
              5To myriad men, too base for man or brute.

              6To serve for common duty, while the brain
              7Is hot with high desire to be distinct;
              8To fill the sand-grain place among the stones
              9That build the social wall in million sameness,
            10Is life by leave, and death by insignificance.

            11To live the morbid years, with dripping blood
            12Of sacrificial labor for a Thought;
            13To take the dearest hope and lay it down
            14Beneath the crushing wheels for love of Freedom;
            15To bear the sordid jeers of cant and trade,
            16And go on hewing for a far ideal, --
            17This were a life worth giving to a cause,
            18If cause be found so worth a martyr life.

            19But highest life of man, nor work nor sacrifice,
            20But utter seeing of the things that be!
            21To pass amid the hurrying crowds, and watch
            22The hungry race for things of vulgar use;
            23To mark the growth of baser lines in men;
            24To note the bending to a servile rule;
            25To know the natural discord called disease
            26That rots like rust the blood and souls of men;
            27To test the wisdoms and philosophies by touch
            28Of that which is immutable, being clear,
            29The beam God opens to the poet's brain;
            30To see with eyes of pity laboring souls
            31Strive upward to the Freedom and the Truth,
            32And still be backward dragged by fear and ignorance;
            33To see the beauty of the world, and hear
            34The rising harmony of growth, whose shade
            35Of undertone is harmonized decay;
            36To know that love is life -- that blood is one
            37And rushes to the union -- that the heart
            38Is like a cup athirst for wine of love;
            39Who sees and feels this meaning utterly,
            40The wrong of law, the right of man, the natural truth.
            41Partaking not of selfish aims, withholding not
            42The word that strengthens and the hand that helps:
            43Who waits and sympathizes with the pettiest life,
            44And loves all things, and reaches up to God
            45With thanks and blessing -- He alone is living.


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: James Jeffrey Roche, Life of John Boyle O'Reilly ... Together with his Complete Poems and Speeches, edited by Mrs. John Boyle O'Reilly (New York: Cassell, 1891): 582-83. PS 2493 R6 Robarts Library
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: 2002
Recent editing: 1:2002/12/11

Rhyme: unrhyming


Other poems by John Boyle O'Reilly