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The Pilgrim's Fathers - Poem by John Boyle O'Reilly

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 ancient freedom of the Wapentake!
Here struck the seed—the Pilgrims' roofless town,
Where equal rights and equal bonds were set,
Where all the people equal-franchised met;
Where doom was writ of privilege and crown;
Where human breath blew all the idols down;
Where crests were nought, where vulture flags were furled,
And common men began to own the world!

All praise to others of the vanguard then!
To Spain, to France; to Baltimore and Penn;
To Jesuit, Quaker,—Puritan and Priest;
Their toil be crowned—their honors be increased!
We slight no true devotion, steal no fame
From other shrines to gild the Pilgrims' name.
As time selects, we judge their treasures heaped;
Their deep foundations laid; their harvests reaped;
Their primal mode of liberty; their rules
Of civil right; their churches, courts, and schools;
Their freedom's very secret here laid down,—
The spring of government is the little town!
They knew that streams must follow to a spring;
And no stream flows from township to a king.
Give praise to others, early-come or late,
For love and labor on our ship of state;
But this must stand, above all fame and zeal:
The Pilgrim Fathers laid the ribs and keel.
On their strong lines we base our social health,—
The man—the home—the town—the commonwealth!

Unconscious builders? Yea: the conscious fail!
Design is impotent if Nature frown.
No deathless pile has grown from intellect.
Immortal things have God for architect,
And men are but the granite He lays down.
Unconscious? Yea! They thought it might avail
To build a gloomy creed about their lives,
To shut out all dissent; but naught survives
Of their poor structure; and we know to-day
Their mission was less pastoral than lay—
More Nation-seed than Gospel-seed were they!

The Faith was theirs: the time had other needs.
The salt they bore must sweeten worldly deeds.
There was a meaning in the very wind
That blew them here so few, so poor, so strong,
To grapple concrete work, not abstract wrong.
Their saintly Robinson was left behind
To teach by gentle memory; to shame
The bigot spirit and the word of flame;
To write dear mercy in the Pilgrims' law;
To lead to that wide faith his soul foresaw,—
That no rejected race in darkness delves;
There are no Gentiles, but they make themselves;
That men are one of blood and one of spirit;
That one is as the whole, and all inherit!

On all the story of a life or race,
The blessing of a good man leaves its trace.
Their Pastor's word at Leyden here sufficed:
'But follow me as I have followed Christ!'
And, 'I believe there is more truth to come!'
O gentle soul, what future age shall sum
The sweet incentive of thy tender word!
Thy sigh to hear of conquest by the sword:
'How happy to convert, and not to slay! '
When valiant Standish killed the chief at bay.
To such as thee the Fathers owe their fame;
The Nation owes a temple to thy name.
Thy teaching made the Pilgrims kindly, free,—
All that the later Puritans should be.
Thy pious instinct marks their destiny.
Thy love won more than force or arts adroit—
It writ and kept the deed with Massasoit;
It earned the welcome Samoset expressed;
It lived again in Eliot's loving breast;
It filled the Compact which the Pilgrims signed—
Immortal scroll! the first where men combined
From one deep lake of common blood to draw
All rulers, rights, and potencies of law.

When waves of ages have their motive spent
Thy sermon preaches in this Monument,
Where Virtue, Courage, Law, and Learning sit;
Calm Faith above them, grasping Holy Writ;
White hand upraised o'er beauteous, trusting eyes,
And pleading finger pointing to the skies!

The past is theirs—the future ours; and we
Must learn and teach. Oh, may our record be
Like theirs, a glory, symbolled in a stone,
To speak as this speaks, of our labors done.
They had no model; but they left us one.

Severe they were; but let him cast the stone
Who Christ's dear love dare measure with his own.
Their strict professions were not cant nor pride.
Who calls them narrow, let his soul be wide!
Austere, exclusive—ay, but with their faults,
Their golden probity mankind exalts,
They never lied in practice, peace, or strife;
They were no hypocrites; their faith was clear;
They feared too much some sins men ought to fear:
The lordly arrogance and avarice,
And vain frivolity's besotting vice;
The stern enthusiasm of their life
Impelled too far, and weighed poor nature down;
They missed God's smile, perhaps, to watch His frown.
But he who digs for faults shall resurrect
Their manly virtues born of self-respect.
How sum their merits? They were true and brave;
They broke no compact and they owned no slave;
They had no servile order, no- dumb throat;
They trusted first the universal vote;
The first were they to practice and. instill
The rule of law and not the rule of will;
They lived one noble test: who would be freed
Must give up all to follow duty's lead.
They made no revolution based on blows,
But taught one truth that all the planet knows,
That all men think of, looking on a throne—
The people may be trusted with their own!

In every land wherever might holds sway
The Pilgrims' leaven is at work to-day.
The Mayflower's cabin was the chosen womb
Of light predestined for the nations' gloom.
God grant that those who tend the sacred flame
May worthy prove of their Forefathers' name.
More light has come,—more dangers, too, perplex:
New prides, new greeds, our high condition vex.
The Fathers fled from feudal lords,, and made
A freehold state; may we not retrograde
To lucre-lords and hierarchs of trade.
May we, as they did, teach in court and school,
There must be classes, but no class shall rule:
The sea is sweet, and rots not like the pool.
Though vast the token of our future glory,
Though tongue of man hath told not such a story,—
Surpassing Plato's dream, More's phantasy,—still we
Have no new principles to keep us free.
As Nature works with changeless grain on grain,
The truths the Fathers taught we need again.
Depart from this, though we may crowd our shelves,
With codes and precepts for each lapse and flaw,
And patch our moral leaks with statute law,
We cannot be protected from ourselves!
Still must we keep in every stroke and vote
The law of conscience that the Pilgrims wrote;
Our seal their secret: LIBERTY CAN BE;
THE STATE IS FREEDOM IF THE TOWN IS FREE.
The death of nations in their work began;
They sowed the seed of federated Man.
Dead nations were but robber-holds; and we
The first battalion of Humanity!
All living nations, while our eagles shine,
One after one, shall swing into our line;
Our freeborn heritage shall be the guide
And bloodless order of their regicide;
The sea shall join, not limit; mountains stand
Dividing farm from farm, not land from land.

O People's Voice! when farthest thrones shall hear;
When teachers own; when thoughtful rabbis know;
When artist minds in world-wide symbol show;
When serfs and soldiers their mute faces raise;
When priests on grand cathedral altars praise;
When pride and arrogance shall disappear,
The Pilgrims' Vision is accomplished here!


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