May 10, 2013

O'Reilly: A wild fire message burns

When the New York World newspaper attained a circulation of 250,000 subscribers, it wanted to celebrate. The editors chose to commission a poem from John Boyle O'Reilly, an Irish-born poet living in Boston known for writing occasional pieces. His poem "The Press Evangel" ran in the May 10, 1887 issue:

God's order, "light!" when all was void and dark
Brought mornless noon, a flame without a spark.
A gift unearned, that none may hold or hide,
An outer glory, not an inner guide;
But flamed no star in heaven to light the soul
And lead the wayward thought toward Freedom's goal.

O wasted ages! Whither have ye led
The breeding masses for their daily bread?
Engendered serfs, across a world of gloom,
The wavelike generations reach the tomb.
Masters and lords, they feared a lord's decree,
Nor freedom knew nor truth to make them free.

But hark! A sound has reached the servile herd!
Strong brows are raised to catch the passing word;
From mouth to mouth a common whisper flies;
A wild fire message burns on lips and eyes;
Far-off and near the kindred tidings throng—
How hopes come true, how heroes challenge wrong;
How men have rights above all law's decrees;
How weak ones rise and sweep the thrones like seas!
Behold! The people listen—question! Then
The inner light has come—the boors are men!

What read ye here—a dreamer's idle rule?
A swelling pedant's lesson for a school?
Nay, here no dreaming, no delusive charts;
But common interests for common hearts;
A truth, a Principle—beneath the sun
One vibrant throb—men's rights and wrongs are one.
One heart's small keyboard touches all the notes;
One weak one's cry distends the million throats;
Nor race nor nation bounds the human kind—
White, yellow, black—one conscience and one mind!

How spread the doctrine? See the teachers fly—
The printed messages across the sky;
From land to land, as never birds could wing;
With songs of promise birds could never sing;
With mighty meanings clearing here and there;
With nations' greetings kings could never share;
With new communions whispering near and far;
With gathering armies bent on peace, not war;
With kindly judges reading righteous laws;
With strength and cheer for every struggling cause.

Roll on, O cylinders of light, and teach
The helpless myriads tongue can never reach.
Make men, not masses: pulp and mud unite—
The single grain of sand reflects the light.
True freedom makes the individual free;
And common law for all makes Liberty!

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