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NOR War nor Peace, forever, old and young,
But Strength my theme, whose song is yet unsung,
The People's Strength, the deep alluring dream
Of truths that seethe below the truths that seem.

The buried ruins of dead empires seek,
Of Indian, Syrian, Persian, Roman, Greek:
From shattered capital and frieze upraise
The stately structures of their golden days:
Their laws occult, their priests and prophets ask.,
Their altars search, their oracles unmask,
Their parable from birth to burial see,
The acorn germ, the growth, the dense-leafed tree,
A world of riant life; the sudden day
When like a new strange glory, shone decay,
A golden glow amid the green; the change
From branch to branch at life's receding range,
Till nothing stands of towering strength and pride
Save naked trunk and arms whose veins are dried;
And these, too, crumble till no signs remain
To mark its place upon the wind-swept plain.

Why died the empires? Like the forest trees
Did Nature doom them? or did slow disease
Assail their roots and poison all their springs?

The old-time story answers: nobles, kings,
Have made and been the State, their names alone
Its history holds; its wealth, its wars, their own.
Their wanton will could raise, enrich, condemn;
The toiling millions lived and died for them.
Their fortunes rose in conquest fell, in guilt;
The people never owned them, never built.
Those oldeti times! how many words are spent
In weak regret and shallow argument
To prove them wiser, happier than our own!
The oldest moment that the world has known
Is passing now. Those vaunted times were young;
Their wisdom from unlettered peasants sprung;
Their laws from nobles arrogant and rude:
Their justice force, their whole achievement crude.

With men the old are wise: why change the rule
When nations speak, and send the old to school?
Respect the past for all the good it knew:
Give noble lives and struggling truths their due;
But ask what freedom knew the common men
Who served and bled and won the victories then?
The leaders are immortal, but the hordes
They led to death were simply human swords,
Unknowing what they fought for, why they fell.

What change has come? Imperial Europe tell!
Death's warders cry from twenty centuries' peaks:
Platsea's field the word to Plevna speaks;
The martial draft still wastes the peasants' farms—
A dozen kings,—five million men in arms
The earth mapped out estate-like, hedged with steel;
In neighboring schools the children bred to feel
Unnatural hate, disjoined in speech and creed;
The forges roaring for the armies' need;
The cities builded by the people lined
With scowling forts and roadways undermined;
At every bastioned frontier, every State,
Suspicion, sworded, standing by the gate!

But turn our eyes from these oppressive lands:
Behold! one country all defenseless stands,
One nation-continent, from East to West,
With riches heaped upon her bounteous breast;
Her mines, her marts, her skill of hand and brain,
That bring Aladdin's dreams to light again!

Where sleep the conquerors? Here is chance for spoil:
Such unwatched fields, such endless, priceless toil!
Vain dream of olden time! The robber strength
That swept its will is overmatched at length.
Here, not with swords but smiles the people greet
The foreign spy in harbor, granary, street;
Here towns unguarded lie, for here alone
Nor caste, nor king, nor privilege is known.
For home our farmer plows, our miner delves,
A land of -toilers, toiling for themselves;
A land of cities, which no fortress shields,
Whose open streets reach out to fertile fields;
VVhose roads are shaken by no armies' tread;
Whose only camps are cities of the dead!
Go stand at Arlington the graves among:
No ramparts, cannons there, no banners hung,
No threat above the Capitol, no blare
To warn the senators the guns are there.

But never yet was city fortified
Like that sad height above Potomac's tide;
There never yet was eloquence in speech
Like those ten thousand stones, a name on each;
No guards e'er pressed such claims on court or king
As these Praetorians to our Senate bring;
The Army of Potomac never lay
So full of strength as in its camp to-day!

On fatal Chaeronea's field the Greeks
A lion raised—a sombre tomb that speaks
No word, no name,—an emblem of the pride
Of those that ruled the insect host that died.

But by her soldiers' graves Columbia proves
How fast toward morn the night of manhood moves.
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

3:47 min read

John Boyle O'Reilly

John Boyle O'Reilly was an Irish-born poet, journalist and fiction writer. more…

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