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Rules of the Road

John Boyle O'Reilly 1844 (Dowth) – 1890 (Boston)

WHAT man would be wise, let him drink of the river
That bears on its bosom the record of time
A message to him every wave can deliver
To teach him to creep till he knows how to climb
Who heeds not experience, trust him not; tell him
The scope of one mind can but trifles achieve:
The weakest who draws from the mine will excel him
The wealth of mankind is the wisdom they leave.

For peace do not hope—to be just you must break it
Still work for the minute and not for the year;
When honor comes to you, be ready to take it;
But reach not to seize it before it is near.
Be silent and safe—silence never betrays you;
Be true to your word and your work and your friend;
Put least trust in him who is foremost to praise you,
Nor judge of a road till it draw to the end.

Stand erect in the vale, nor exult on the mountain;
Take gifts with a sigh—most men give to be paid;
'I had' is a heartache, 'I have' is a fountain,—
You're worth what you saved, not the million you made.
Trust toil not intent, or your plans will miscarry;
Your wife keep a sweetheart, instead of a tease;
Rule children by reason, not rod; and, mind, marry
Your girl when you can—and your boy when you please.

Steer straight as the wind will allow; but be ready
To veer just a point to let travelers pass:
Each sees his own star—a stiff course is too steady
When this one to Meeting goes, that one to Mass.
Our stream's not so wide but two arches may span it—
Good neighbor and citizen; these for a code,
And this truth in sight,—every man on the planet
Has just as much right as yourself to the road.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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John Boyle O'Reilly

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

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