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Midnight—September 19, 1881


ONCE in a lifetime, we may see the veil
Tremble and lift, that hides symbolic things;
The Spirit's vision, when the senses fail,
Sweeps the weird meaning that the outlook brings.

Deep in the midst of turmoil, it may be—
A crowded street, a forum, or a field,—
The soul inverts the telescope to see
To-day's event in future's years revealed.

Back from the present, let us look at Rome:
Behold, what Cato meant, what Brutus said.
Hark! the Athenians welcome Cimon home!
How clear they are those glimpses of the dead!

But we, hard toilers, we who plan and weave
Through common days the web of common life,
What word, alas! shall teach us to receive
The mystic meaning of our peace and strife?

Whence comes our symbol? Surely, God must speak-
No less than He can make us heed or pause:
Self-seekers we, too busy or too weak
To search beyond our daily lives and laws.

From things occult our earth-turned eyes rebel;
No sound of Destiny can reach our ears;
We have no time for dreaming—Hark! a knell—
A knell at midnight! All the nation hears!

A second grievous throb! The dreamers wake—
The merchant's soul forgets his goods and ships;
The weary workmen from their slumbers break;
The women raise their eyes with quivering lips;

The miner rests upon his pick to hear;
The printer's type stops midway from the case;
The solemn sound has reached the roysterer's ear,
And brought the shame and sorrow to his face.

Again it booms! O Mystic Veil, upraise!
—Behold, 'tis lifted? On the darkness drawn,
A picture lined with light! The people's gaze,
Prom sea to sea, beholds it till the dawn!

A death-bed scene—a sinking sufferer lies,
Their chosen ruler, crowned with love and pride;
Around, his counselors, with streaming eyes;
His wife, heart-broken, kneeling by his side:

Death's shadow holds her—it will pass too soon;
She weeps in silence—bitterest of tears;
He wanders softly—Nature's kindest boon;
And as he murmurs, all the country hears:

For him the pain is past, the struggle ends;
His cares and honors fade—his younger life
In peaceful Mentor conies, with dear old friends;
His mother's arms take home his dear young wife.

He stands among the students, tall and strong,
And teaches truths republican and grand;
He moves—ah, pitiful—he sweeps along
O'er fields of carnage leading his command!

He speaks to crowded faces—round him surge
Thousands and millions of excited men:
He hears them cheer—sees some vast light emerge—
Is borne as on a tempest—then—ah, then,

The fancies fade, the fever's work is past;
A deepened pang, then recollection's thrill;
He feels the faithful lips that kiss their last.
His heart beats once in answer, and is still!

The curtain falls: but hushed, as if afraid,
The people wait, tear-stained, with heaving breast;
'Twill rise again, they know, when he is laid
With Freedom, in the Capitol, at rest.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

2:32 min read

John Boyle O'Reilly

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

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