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The Pilgrim's Fathers

ONE righteous word for Law—the common will;
One living truth of Faith—God regnant still;
One primal test of Freedom—all combined;
One sacred Revolution—change of mind;
One trust unfailing for the night and need—
The tyrant-flower shall cast the freedom-seed.

So held they firm, the Fathers aye to be,
From Home to Holland, Holland to the sea—
Pilgrims for manhood, in their little ship,
Hope in each heart and prayer on every lip.
They could not live by king-made codes and creeds;
They chose the path where every footstep bleeds.
Protesting, not rebelling; scorned and banned;
Through pains and prisons harried from the land;
Through double exile,—till at last they stand
Apart from all,—unique, unworldly, true,
Selected grain to sow the earth anew;
A winnowed part—a saving remnant they;
Dreamers who work—adventurers who pray!
What vision led them? Can we test their prayers?
Who knows they saw no empire in the West?
The later Puritans sought land and gold,
And all the treasures that the Spaniard told;
What line divides the Pilgrims from the rest?

We know them by the exile that was theirs;
Their justice, faith, and fortitude attest;
And those long years in Holland, when their band
Sought humble living in a stranger's land.
They saw their England covered with a weed
Of flaunting lordship both in court and creed.
With helpless hands they watched the error grow,
Pride on the top and impotence below;
Indulgent nobles, privileged and strong,
A haughty crew to whom all rights belong;
The bishops arrogant, the courts impure,
The rich conspirators against the poor;
The peasant scorned, the artisan despised;
The all-supporting workers lowest prized.
They marked those evils deepen year by year:
The pensions grow, the freeholds disappear,
Till England meant but monarch, prelate, peer.
At last, the Conquest! Now they know the word:
The Saxon tenant and the Norman lord!
No longer Merrie England: now it meant
The payers and the takers of the rent;
And rent exacted not from lands alone—
All rights and hopes must centre in the throne:
Law-tithes for prayer—their souls were not their own!

Then o'er the brim the bitter waters welled;
The mind protested and the soul rebelled.
And yet, how deep the bowl, how slight the flow!
A few brave exiles from their country go;
A few strong souls whose rich affections cling,
Though cursed by clerics, hunted by the king.
Their last sad vision on the Grimsby strand
Their wives and children kneeling on the sand.

Then twelve slow years in Holland—changing years—
Strange ways of life—strange voices in their ears;
The growing children learning foreign speech;
And growing, too, within the heart of each
A thought of further exile—of a home
In some far land—a home for life and death
By their hands built, in equity and faith.

And then the preparation—the heart-beat
Of wayfarers who may not rest their feet;
Their Pastor's blessing—the farewells of some
'Who stayed in Leyden. Then the sea's wide blue!—
'They sailed,' writ one,' and as they sailed they knew
That they were Pilgrims!'

  On the wintry main
Grod flings their lives as farmers scatter grain.
His breath propels the winged seed afloat;
His tempests swerve to spare the fragile boat;
Before His prompting terrors disappear;
He points the way while patient seamen steer;
Till port is reached, nor North, nor South, but HERE!

Here, where the shore was rugged as the waves,
'Where frozen nature dumb and leafless lay,
And no rich meadows bade the Pilgrims stay,
'Was spread the symbol of the life that saves:
To conquer first the outer things; to make
Their own advantage, unallied, unbound;
Their blood the mortar, building from the ground;
Their cares the statutes, making all anew;
To learn to trust the many, not the few;
To bend the mind to discipline; to break
The bonds of old convention, and forget
The claims and barriers of class; to face
A desert land, a strange and hostile race,
And conquer both to friendship by the debt
That Nature pays to justice, love, and toil.

Here, on this rock, and on this sterile soil,
Began the kingdom not of kings, but men:
Began the making of the world again.
Here centuries sank, and from the hither brink
A new world reached and raised an old-world link,
When English hands, by wider vision taught,
Threw down the feudal bars the Normans brought,
And here revived, in spite of sword and stake,
Their ancie
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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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