August 13, 2011

O'Reilly and Riley: Beyond wonderment

After the death of Irish-born poet John Boyle O'Reilly (pictured), the "Hoosier Poet" James Whitcomb Riley was moved to write a memorial poem. The poem was dated three days after O'Reilly's death, August 13, 1890 (the day of his funeral, which Riley may have attended):

DEAD? this peerless man of men—
Patriot, Poet, Citizen!—
   Dead? and ye weep where he lies
      Mute, with folded eyes!

Courage! All his tears are done;
Mark him, dauntless, face the sun!
   He hath led you.—Still, as true,
      He is leading you.

Folded eyes and folded hands
Typify divine commands
   He is hearkening to, intent
      Beyond wonderment.

'Tis promotion that has come
Thus upon him. Stricken dumb
   Be your moanings dolorous!
      God knows what He does.

Rather, as your chief, aspire!
Rise and seize his toppling lyre,
   And sing Freedom, Home and Love,
      And the rights thereof!

Ere in selfish grief ye sink,
Come! catch rapturous breath and think—
   Think what sweep of wing hath he,
      Loosed in endless liberty.

Years earlier, O'Reilly, who was editor of the Boston Pilot, had helped Riley break into the the literary scene of that city. At a time when he most needed it, O'Reilly offered high praise: "He has a rare quality as a writer," he wrote, and predicted his reputation would soon burst outside of his native Indiana. "Hoozierdom cannot hold his reputation locally. He will grow to be an American poet, or we know nothing of the signs of genius."

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