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JOHN BOYLE O'REILLY
Ensign Epps, the Color Bearer
Ensign Epps, at the battle of Flanders,
Sowed a seed of glory and duty,
That flowers and flames in height and beauty
Like a crimson lily with heart of gold,
5 To-day, when the wars of Ghent are old,
And buried as deep as their dead commanders.
Ensign Epps was the color bearer -
No matter on which side, Philip or Earl;
Their cause was the shell — his deed was the pearl. 10 Scarce more than a lad, he had been a sharer
That day in the wildest work of the field.
He was wounded and spent, and the fight was lost;
His comrades were slain, or a scattered host.
But stainless and scathless out of the strife 15 He had carried his colors, safer than life.
By the river's brink, without weapon or shield,
He faced the victors. The thick heart-mist
He dashed from his eyes, and the silk he kissed
Ere he held it aloft in the setting sun,
20 As proudly as if the fight had been won,
And he smiled when they ordered him to yield.
Ensign Epps, with his broken blade,
Cut the silk from the gilded staff,
Which he poised like a spear till the charge was made,
And hurled at the leader with a laugh.
Then round his breast, like the scarf of his love,
He tied the colors his heart above,
And plunged in his armor into the tide,
And there, in his dress of honor, died.
Where are the lessons ye kinglings teach?
And what is the text of your proud commanders ?
Out of the centuries, heroes reach
With the scroll of a deed, with the word of a story,
Of one man's truth and of all men's glory,
Like Ensign Epps at the battle of Flanders.
The groves were God's first temples. Ere man
To hew the shaft, and lay the architrave,
And spread the roof above them - ere he framed
The lofty vault, to gather and roll back
The sound of anthems; in the darkling wood,
Amid the cool and silence, he knelt down, And offered to the Mightiest solemn thanks And supplication. For his simple heart Might not resist the sacred influences 5 Which, from the stilly twilight of the place, And from the gray old trunks that high in heaven Mingled their mossy boughs, and from the sound Of the invisible breath that swayed at once
All their green tops, stole over him, and bowed 10 His spirit with the thought of boundless power
And inaccessible majesty. Ah, why
Should we, in the world's riper years, neglect
God's ancient sanctuaries, and adore
Only among the crowd, and under roofs 15 That our frail hands have raised? Let me, at least,
Here, in the shadow of this aged wood,
Offer one hymn — thrice happy, if it find
Acceptance in His ear.
Father, Thy hand Hath reared these venerable columns, Thou 20 Didst weave this verdant roof. Thou didst look down
Upon the naked earth, and, forthwith, rose
All these fair ranks of trees. They, in Thy sun,
Budded, and shook their green leaves in Thy breeze,
And shot toward heaven. The century-living crow 25 Whose birth was in their tops, grew old and died
Among their branches, till, at last, they stood,
As now they stand, massy, and tall, and dark,
Fit shrine for humble worshiper to hold
Communion with his Maker. These dim vaults,
These winding aisles, of human pomp or pride
Report not. No fantastic carvings show
The boast of our vain race to change the form
Of Thy fair works. But Thou art here - Thou fill'st
The solitude. Thou art in the soft winds
That run along the summit of these trees
In music; Thou art in the cooler breath
That from the inmost darkness of the place
Comes, scarcely felt; the barky trunks, the ground,
The fresh moist ground, are all instinct with Thee.
Here is continual worship; - Nature, here,
In the tranquillity that Thou dost love,
Enjoys Thy presence. Noiselessly, around,
From perch to perch, the solitary bird
Passes; and yon clear spring, that, midst its herbs,
Wells softly forth and wandering steeps the roots
Of half the mighty forest, tells no tale
Of all the good it does. Thou hast not left
Thyself without a witness, in the shades,
Of Thy perfections. Grandeur, strength, and grace
Are here to speak of Thee. This mighty oak —
By whose immovable stem I stand and seem
Almost annihilated – not a prince,
In all that proud old world beyond the deep,
E’er wore his crown as loftily as he
Wears the green coronal of leaves with which Thy hand has graced him. Nestled at his root Is beauty, such as blooms not in the glare Of the broad sun. That delicate forest flower, 5 With scented breath and look so like a smile, Seems, as it issues from the shapeless mold, An emanation of the indwelling Life, A visible token of the upholding Love, That are the soul of this great universe.
10 My heart is awed within me when I think
Of the great miracle that still goes on,
In silence, round me — the perpetual work
Of Thy creation, finished, yet renewed
Forever. Written on Thy works I read
The lesson of Thy own eternity.
Lo! all grow old and die — but see again,
How on the faltering footsteps of decay
Youth presses — ever gay and beautiful youth
In all its beautiful forms. These lofty trees 20 Wave not less proudly that their ancestors
Molder beneath them. Oh, there is not lost
One of earth's charms: upon her bosom yet,
After the flight of untold centuries,
The freshness of her far beginning lies
25 And yet shall lie. Life mocks the idle hate
Of his arch-enemy Death — yea, seats himself Upon the tyrant's throne — the sepulcher,